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A Brief Message for Canadians: Get Over It!
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
CANADIANS: Be ashamed that this newspaper column is what passes for the “public discourse” in this country: a raving, ignorant, arrogant, idiotic and racist rant telling Indigenous people to “get over it” – referring to the state-sanctioned racism, genocide, and imperialism – all of which is still taking place.
Naomi Lakritz wrote a syndicated column for the Calgary Herald on July 31, that First Nations people “need to quit blaming the past” for the circumstances in which they live, because they “have nobody to blame but themselves.” First Nations people, suggested Lakritz, need to drop “the victimization mantle” and instead, start “with the concept of individual responsibility.” In other words: get over it!
No, instead of Canadians acknowledging our history as a nation – the violent destruction, exploitation, domination, murder and discrimination exerted against the indigenous peoples of the land we invaded and occupied – this “journalist” thinks that Indigenous people should “stop blaming their history.”
They are not blaming their history: they are pointing to their history so that we may learn our own. We have a ‘shared’ history, and it has led us to the present. If we – as Canadians – actually looked at our history, and traced its evolution up to the present, we would realize that our ‘colonial’ history has now evolved into a modern state-capitalist imperial present. Our historical injustices imposed upon Indigenous peoples have modern incarnations: the system of domination, exploitation, segregation, discrimination and – yes(!) – genocide, continues today.
If we learned about all that, we might want to change it. We might develop something called ’empathy’ which can lead to something called ‘solidarity.’ These are very human characteristics, so I understand that they seem challenging to relate to in a deeply dehumanizing society; but remember, we have a shared history and we share the present. Our histories are intertwined and interdependent, and so too is our future.
We might look out at the fact that Indigenous people, not only in Canada but around the world, are rising up in rebellion against the rampant and accelerating destruction of the environment, which will lead the species to extinction. Indigenous people are on the front lines of the global struggle against human extinction and the preservation of the environment and earth we live on. If we looked at all that… we might join them.
Instead, we read articles like this gutter trash, intellectual abortion, which has been published in the Calgary Herald, The Province, Victoria Times-Colonist, and the Edmonton Journal. Interesting how in the two provinces of BC and Alberta where the Indigenous struggle against environmental destruction is currently very active, are the same provinces where this ‘article’ is published in the main newspapers for the four largest population centres… just in case you might get the ‘right’ idea.
Canada’s corporate-owned media wouldn’t want that, would it? Not when the corporation that owns all these newspapers – the largest newspaper company in Canada, Postmedia Network – has a board of directors who are reaping profits and power off of the destruction of the environment, sitting on multiple other corporate boards for banks, energy and oil companies.
Take Jane Peverett, on the board of Postmedia. Jane also sits on the boards of CIBC, the Northwest Natural Gas Company, and Encana, a major energy company. As recently as November, an Indigenous group in BC was taking action against the construction of a major pipeline project partly owned by Encana.
I’m not blaming Jane for this article; I think the author deserves the blame. But Jane – and her compatriots who sit on the boards of Canada’s highly concentrated media system – maintain and wield significant influence over a media institution which promotes articles like this as contributing to the ‘public discourse,’ when all it does is promote ignorance, propaganda, passivity, and protects the interests of the powerful who own it. It’s an institutional function. Jane is merely a cog in a much larger wheel, while Naomi Lakritz can barely be said to be cognizant.
It’s institutional propaganda. Just as the discrimination, exploitation, domination and destruction of Indigenous people is institutional to our society. For a population currently struggling against the rapacious ravaging of the environment, let alone for survival, being told to “get over it,” is another way of saying: “just die, already.” And because the struggle is against the extinction of our species if we continue along our current path, saying, “get over it,” is also like saying, “we’re all going to die, but I don’t want to do anything about it… and neither should you.”
So for those Canadians who think the article above presented a ‘reasonable’ argument (and I KNOW you exist), and for those Canadians who think Indigenous people should stop “blaming history,” take a piece of your own advice: get over it. Learn your history, know your world, find your brothers and sisters and join them in the struggle to save the species and the planet we live on.
When it comes to having people like Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald lower the public discourse – or rather, maintain the public discourse at painful lows – it’s really time that we get beyond this. Naomi Lakritz also thinks pot is a “dangerous drug” and legalization a “bad idea” (because once again, “get over” history, don’t learn, just delude!), and who (shockingly) has problems with immigrants, and it’s too perfect: she wants them to “leave [their] history at home” when they come to Canada… the nation with no history, apparently.
The deranged attempts by Lakritz to support the status quo when it comes to matters of injustice cannot be left as the level of discourse in a country which boasts the title of “the most educated country in the world.” It’s time to start acting like it. So it’s time to stop listening to Lakritz and other ‘rebels against rationality’, and START listening to Indigenous people, who have a great deal that they are trying to teach us about our country, and are showing us ways that we can help change it for the better.
It’s only our fate as a people, species, and planet that is at stake… Get over it.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com‘s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The Propaganda System That Has Helped Create a Permanent Overclass Is Over a Century in the Making
Pulling back the curtain on how intent the wealthiest Americans have been on establishing a propaganda tool to subvert democracy.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at AlterNet
Where there is the possibility of democracy, there is the inevitability of elite insecurity. All through its history, democracy has been under a sustained attack by elite interests, political, economic, and cultural. There is a simple reason for this: democracy – as in true democracy – places power with people. In such circumstances, the few who hold power become threatened. With technological changes in modern history, with literacy and education, mass communication, organization and activism, elites have had to react to the changing nature of society – locally and globally.
From the late 19th century on, the “threats” to elite interests from the possibility of true democracy mobilized institutions, ideologies, and individuals in support of power. What began was a massive social engineering project with one objective: control. Through educational institutions, the social sciences, philanthropic foundations, public relations and advertising agencies, corporations, banks, and states, powerful interests sought to reform and protect their power from the potential of popular democracy.
Yet for all the efforts, organization, indoctrination and reformation of power interests, the threat of democracy has remained a constant, seemingly embedded in the human consciousness, persistent and pervasive.
In his highly influential work, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, French social psychologist Gustav Le Bon suggested that middle class politics were transforming into popular democracy, where “the opinion of the masses” was the most important opinion in society. He wrote: “The destinies of nations are elaborated at present in the heart of the masses, and no longer in the councils of princes.” This was, of course, a deplorable change for elites, suggesting that, “[t]he divine right of the masses is about to replace the divine right of kings.” Le Bon suggested, however, that the “crowd” was not rational, but rather was driven by emotion and passion.
An associate and friend of Le Bon’s, Gabriel Tarde, expanded upon this concept, and articulated the idea that “the crowd” was a social group of the past, and that “the public” was “the social group of the future.” The public, argued Tarde, was a “spiritual collectivity, a dispersion of individuals who are physically separated and whose cohesion is entirely mental.” Thus, Tarde identified in the growth of the printing press and mass communications a powerful medium through which “the public” was shaped, and that, if managed appropriately, could bring a sense of order to a situation increasingly chaotic. The newspaper, Tarde explained, facilitated “the fusion of personal opinions into local opinions, and this into national and world opinion, the grandiose unification of the public mind.”
The development of psychology, psychoanalysis, and other disciplines increasingly portrayed the “public” and the population as irrational beings incapable of making their own decisions. The premise was simple: if the population was driven by dangerous, irrational emotions, they needed to be kept out of power and ruled over by those who were driven by reason and rationality, naturally, those who were already in power.
The Princeton Radio Project, which began in the 1930s with Rockefeller Foundation funding, brought together many psychologists, social scientists, and “experts” armed with an interest in social control, mass communication, and propaganda. The Princeton Radio Project had a profound influence upon the development of a modern “democratic propaganda” in the United States and elsewhere in the industrialized world. It helped in establishing and nurturing the ideas, institutions, and individuals who would come to shape America’s “democratic propaganda” throughout the Cold War, a program fostered between the private corporations which own the media, advertising, marketing, and public relations industries, and the state itself.
‘A Genuinely Democratic Propaganda’
World War I popularized the term “propaganda” and gave it negative connotations, as all major nations involved in the war effort employed new techniques of modern propaganda to mobilize their populations for war. In the United States, the effort was led by President Woodrow Wilson in the establishment of the Committee on Public Information (CPI) as a “vast propaganda ministry.” The central theme of the CPI was to promote U.S. entry into the war on the basis of seeking “to make a world that is safe for democracy.” This point was specifically developed by the leading intellectual of the era, Walter Lippmann, who by the age of 25 was referred to by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the most brilliant man of his age.” Lippmann was concerned primarily with the maintenance of the state-capitalist system in the face of increased unrest, resistance, and ideological opposition, feeling that the “discipline of science” would need to be applied to democracy, where social engineers and social scientists “would provide the modern state with a foundation upon which a new stability might be realized.” For this, Lippmann suggested the necessity of “intelligence and information control” in what he termed the “manufacture of consent.”
Important intellectuals of the era then became principally concerned with the issue of propaganda during peacetime, having witnessed its success in times of war. Propaganda, wrote Lippmann, “has a legitimate and desirable part to play in our democratic system.” A leading political scientist of the era, Harold Lasswell, noted: “Propaganda is surely here to stay.” In his 1925 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann wrote that the public was a “bewildered herd” of “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who should be maintained as “interested spectators of action,” and distinct from the actors themselves, the powerful. Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations’ and nephew of Sigmund Freud got his start with Wilson’s CPI during World War I, and had since become a leading voice in the fields of propaganda and public relations. In his 1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” Modern society was dominated by a “relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses,” and this was, in Bernays’ thinking, “a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” Bernays referred to this – “borrowing” from Walter Lippmann – as the “engineering of consent.”
For the leading intellectuals and social engineers of the era, “propaganda” was presented as distinctly “democratic” and as a necessity to the proper functioning of society. John Marshall of the Rockefeller Foundation focused on what he called the “problem of propaganda” and sought to create, as he wrote in 1938, a “genuinely democratic propaganda.” Marshall pursued this objective through the Rockefeller Foundation, and specifically with the Princeton Radio Project in the late 1930s under the direction of Hadley Cantril and Frank Stanton, though including other intellectuals such as Paul Lazarsfeld and Harold Lasswell.
In 1936, Marshall wrote that the best way to expand the use of radio and film was for the Rockefeller Foundation to give “a few younger men with talent for these mediums an opportunity for relatively free experimentation… men interested primarily in education, literature, criticism, or in disseminating the findings of the social or natural sciences.”
In 1939, with the war in Europe under way, the Rockefeller Foundation had organized several conferences and published several papers on the issue of mass communication, directed by what was called the Communications Group, headed by Marshall and other Foundation officials, and with the participation of Lasswell, Lazarzfeld, Cantril, and several others. Early on, the Communications Group noted that with “an increasing degree of [government] control… in regard to all phases of communication, such as in the schools, the radio, the films, the press, and even eventually in all public discussion,” it was necessary to arrive at a consensus – among the “experts” – as to what role they should play as the state expands its authority over communication. Sociologist Robert Lynd took a page from Lippmann and wrote that a “goal” of experts in communication should “be that of persuading the people that there are many issues too complicated for them to decide, which should be left to experts.” One other participant commented on Lynd’s suggestion: “Mr. Lynd feels we need a restructuring of democratic action in terms of the capacity of different groups of the population and an abandonment of the American idea of the responsibility and capacity of the man on the street.” In 1940, John Marshall wrote:
In a period of emergency such as I believe we now face, the manipulation of public opinion to meet emergency needs has to be taken for granted. In such a period, those in control must shape public opinion to support courses of action which the emergency necessitates… No one, I think, can blame them for that impulse.
In a 1940 memo for the Communications Group, Marshall wrote that, “We believe… that for leadership to secure that consent will require unprecedented knowledge of the public mind and of the means by which leadership can secure consent… We believe… that we gave available today methods of research which can reliably inform us about the public mind and how it is being, or can be, influenced in relation to public affairs.” The memo concerned some officials at the Rockefeller Foundation, noting that it could be misinterpreted and that such research should be careful about becoming a mere tool of the state, with one official noting: “Public opinion and vested interests are… violently opposed to such a development which would be labeled as fascist or authoritarian.” Another official suggested that the memo “looks to me like something that [Nazi propaganda chief] Herr Goebbels could put out with complete sincerity.” While one Foundation official referred to the memo as resembling “the methods by which democracy has been destroyed,” he added that, “finding out regularly and completely what the mass of the people feel and believe and think about things and policies is a necessary part of the modern democratic process.” Marshall and the Communications Group refined their approach from a more overt authoritarianism of “one-way” communication between the state and the population, to a more Lippmann-centered concept of “manufacturing consent” and what has been referred to as “democratic elitism.” In the final report of the Communications Group in 1940, it was noted that two-way communication between the government and population was essential, as without it, “democracy is endangered,” and that it was required for the population to give “consent.”
Frank Stanton, along with Hadley Cantril, was one of the co-directors of the Princeton Project since its inception. As Michael J. Socolow wrote in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Frank Stanton had “devoted much of his life to understanding the cultural, social, and psychological effects of the mass media.” Stanton was the president of CBS from 1946 until 1973, during which he “proved to be an effective corporate strategist” and “a skillful political operator,” not least of all because he “collaborated closely with the U.S. government, performing propaganda tasks during the Second World War and the ensuing Cold War.”
Stanton’s first job was in the advertising industry, beginning in 1929 and cut short by the market crash, though Stanton maintained that advertising “was the greatest thing since sliced bread.” In school, Stanton studied business administration and psychology, being particularly influenced by John B. Watson, the developer of behaviorism, who himself went to go work for an advertising agency. Throughout his own life and career, Stanton viewed himself as “a behaviorist, a social scientist valuing the application of psychological technique across a variety of human endeavors.”
Behaviorism was a brand of psychology which emerged in response to the development of the field by social scientists seeking to make “scientific” what was previously the realm of philosophy and spirituality, drawing in political scientists, economists, sociologists, and others. The field of psychology had become more prominent following World War I, after having proved its worth to power interests in mobilizing, manipulating, and studying populations and their perceptions. In 1929, the president of Yale, James Agnell, announced the creation of the Yale Institute of Human Relations (IHR), with a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Agnell explained that the IHR was “directly concerned with the problems of man’s individual and group conduct,” out of which the purpose was “to correlate knowledge and coordinate technique in related fields that greater progress may be made in the understanding of human life.”
The IHR helped facilitate the rise of behaviorism in psychology, as in the 1920s and 30s, social unrest was a growing problem, and so psychologists attempted to promote themselves and their field as a possible solution to these problems, as a “scientific psychology” – or “social psychology” – could “be instrumental for attaining democratic social order and control.” Such a theory was based upon the view that the individual was not well “adjusted” to a rapidly changing environment, and therefore, with the help of psychology, the individual could be “adjusted” successfully. Of course, the notion that there is something inherently problematic with society and the social order (and the hierarchy upon which it was built) went unquestioned. In other words, it was not society which needed to “adjust” to individuals and the population, but rather the opposite. Psychologists and Yale’s Institute of Human Relations would promote themselves as the solution to this complex problem. Behaviorism was thus concerned with environmental and behavior control in human relations. This influenced not only Frank Stanton, but other key officials who were involved in the Princeton Radio Project, including Paul Lazarsfeld.
Frank Stanton eventually got a job at CBS following some research he had done on radio audiences and had sent to CBS headquarters. In 1935, Stanton was the third employee hired by CBS for the research division, concerned largely with the ability of advertisers to sell to radio listeners. As Stanton explained in 1936, the contribution of psychology to radio research “should be largely one of technique,” adding: “It isn’t enough to know what programs are heard and preferred. We want to know why they are listened to and liked, and furthermore, we want to quantify influence.” Weeks later, Stanton – with the suggestion of Hadley Cantril – wrote a draft memo of a research proposal for the Rockefeller Foundation, out of which would come to Office of Radio Research at Princeton.
The Princeton Radio Project, established with Rockefeller funding and directed by Paul Lazarsfeld, Cantril, and Stanton, focused on studying the uses and effects of radio communications upon the population, and almost exclusively led to the field of mass communications research. Theodor Adorno, a critical theorist whom Lazarsfeld invited to join the Princeton Radio Project ran into several problems during his research with his associates. Lazarsfeld brought Adorno into the project hoping that he could bridge the gap between American and European approaches to research. Adorno, however, sought to understand not simply the effects of radio in mass communications, but the role played by the “researcher” – or “expert” – in the social order itself. This put him in direct conflict with the project and its philosophy. For Adorno, wrote Slack and Allor, “not only the processes of communication but the practice of communication research itself had to be viewed critically.” Reflecting upon his experience some decades later, Adorno wrote that, “there appeared to be little room for such social research in the framework of the Princeton Project.” He noted: “Its charter, which came from the Rockefeller Foundation, expressly stipulated that the investigations must be performed within the limits of the commercial radio system prevailing in the United States.” Thus, “the system itself, its cultural and sociological consequences and its social and economic presuppositions were not to be analyzed… I was disturbed.”
Shortly after World War II and into the 1950s, the U.S. State Department became increasingly interested in the subject of propaganda, or what was termed “information management” and “public diplomacy.” Television was of particular interest in promoting American state interests, specifically those defined by the Cold War. Francis Russell, the director of the State Department’s Public Affairs (PA) division from 1945 to 1953, noted that “propaganda abroad is indispensable” in the Cold War, but that the State Department had “diligently cultivated the concept of PA as a service to the American people, a place where the public can come to obtain information.” He explained his worry that, “if the American people ever get the idea that the same high-powered propaganda machine” used abroad was “also at work on them, the result will be disaster fir both the domestic and overseas programs.” The role of the PA was not in a censorship bureau, but as a dispenser of “information,” to which the media – largely privately owned – would use as a consistent source for reporting, re-printing press releases, and seeking official sources for comment. Edward Barrett, another top official in the PA division, later noted: “We really tried to stick to the truth and tell nothing but the truth, but we didn’t always tell the whole truth.”
Nancy Bernhard, writing in the journal Diplomatic History, explained this contradiction aptly: “While Americans defended commercial broadcasting because it was free from Communistic government control, commercial broadcasters voluntarily collaborated with the government information services in the name of anticommunism. “Free” broadcasters volunteered as a virtually official information agency.” It was no surprise, then, that government “information programs” used the specific talents of corporate tycoons in the media world, bringing in talent from networks, advertising agencies, public relations agencies, and marketing bureaus. The State Department established a number of “advisory boards” to monitor its “public affairs” operations, largely made up of industry and corporate officials. Among the influential board members was Frank Stanton.
When Eisenhower came to power, a new agency was created to handle information and cultural programs previously undertaken by the State Department, the US Information Agency (USIA), established in 1953. In attempting to create a terminology to describe the activities of the USIA and its relationship to foreign policy goals – without using the obvious term “propaganda” – the term “public diplomacy” was commonly used. Frank Stanton, who left CBS in 1973, subsequently chaired a research report by the prominent American think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 1975, entitled, International Information Education and Cultural Relations – Recommendations for the Future. The report recommended “that the international information and cultural programs [of the U.S. government] deserve all possible support in the years ahead, that they have demonstrated their success and are therefore an exceptional investment of government energy and the taxpayer’s dollar.”
While head of CBS, Stanton developed relationships with American presidents, whose Cold War strategies he would help promote through his network. When Kennedy became president, he offered Frank Stanton the job as head of the United States Information Agency (USIA), which Stanton declined (though recommended the appointment of Edward R. Murrow, a prominent journalist with CBS, whom Stanton had no lack of problems with). In fact, in 1958, Edward R. Murrow delivered a speech before the Radio-Television News Directors Association in which he “implicitly indicted Stanton” for the way in which he managed CBS, stating: “The top management of the networks… has been trained in advertising, research, or show business… by the nature of the corporate structure, [these managers] also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.”
Stanton developed a reputation as a trustworthy propagandist for the Cold War, but was not unwilling to flex his own power when confronted with state power, such as when President Lyndon Johnson, angry at specific coverage of Vietnam on CBS, called up Stanton and stated, “Frank, are you trying to fuck your country?” Stanton refused to budge on his coverage under pressure from the president. Yet still, he remained a propagandist, and even participated in the CIA’s program to infiltrate the domestic media, with general knowledge of the Agency’s program with CBS, though according to one CIA agent involved in the matter, he didn’t “want to know the fine points.”
Stanton, however, was ultimately a corporation man. Not only did he help in the development of the government’s official propaganda systems, but he was a key figure in the promotion of the “corporatization” of news and information. Thus, for Stanton, “information management” was not simply to be done in the interests of the state, but also – and arguably primarily – in the interests of corporations. In Stanton’s own words, “since we are advertiser supported we must take into account the general objectives and desires of advertisers as a whole.” Stanton was not the only executive to voice such views, as one executive at NBC as early as 1940, declared, “we should make money on our news.”
The ‘Social Control’ Society: A Background to ‘Democratic Propaganda’
One of the primary institutions of social control is the educational system. For primary and secondary educational institutions, the original objective was to foster a strong sense of national identity, bringing a cohesive world view to the development of a national citizenry, and thus, to establish a system of social control. For university education, the original and evolving intend had been to develop an elite capable of managing society, and thus, to produce the controllers and technicians of society, itself. As the modern university underwent a major transformation in late 19th century America, it sought to apply the potential of the “sciences” to the social world, and thus, in a society undergoing rapid industrialization, urbanization, poverty, immigration, labour unrest, and new forms of communication, the “social sciences” were developed with an objective of producing social engineers and technicians for a new society of “social control.”
The major industrial and financial elites had a direct role to play in the transformation of this educational system, and a substantial interest in the ideologies which would emerge from them. As Andrew Carnegie wrote in 1889, at the top of the list of “charitable deeds” to undertake was “the founding of a university by men enormously rich, such men as must necessarily be few in any country.” It was in this context, of robber barons seeking to remake education, that we see the founding of several of America’s top universities, many of which were named after their robber baron founders, such as Stanford (after Leland Stanford), Cornell (after Ezra Cornell), and Johns Hopkins, who owned the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
This new class of industrialists, who emerged out of the Civil War in America, “challenged the position of the old propertied, pre-industrial elite. This struggle crystallized in particular around the reform of the educational system that had legitimated the old elite’s domination.” The modern university was born out of this struggle between elites, with the old educational system based upon religious and moral values, “and the making of gentlemen,” while the “new education” focused on “the importance of management or administration” as well as “public service, [and] the advancement of knowledge through original investigation.”
John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago in 1891, and the President of the University, “initiated a new disciplinary system, which was enormously influential.” Ultimately, it “led to the formation of the department structure of the American university, which was internationally unique,” and was later exported around the world “with the help of American foundations.” This disciplinary system consisted of separating politics from economics (rejecting the notion of “political economy” and its “ideologies”), as ideology was “deemed unscientific and inappropriate in social sciences and political scientists have increasingly seen their function as service to the powerful, rather than providing leadership to populist or socialist movements.”
Nicolas Guilhot wrote in the journal Critical Sociology that since “social reform was inevitable,” these industrialists “chose to invest in the definition and scientific treatment of the ‘social questions’ of their time,” and subsequently, they “promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order,” and instead constructed a “private alternative to socialism.” Social control was not simply seen as the means through which a society – as it exists – could be maintained, but more often sought to preserve elements of that society (such as its hierarchical structure, the position of the elites) through periods of profound social change. In this sense, the question was “whether the processes of social control are able to maintain the social order [hierarchy] while transformation and social change take place.”
The United States was viewed “as the laboratory for the study of transitional society in the framework of a rapidly changing social structure,” and therefore, at a time when sociology was being established as an intellectual and academic discipline, “the United States could be viewed as a microcosm of social change and disorder.” The sociologist Edward A. Ross was the first to popularize the concept of social control in the American Journal of Sociology in 1896 and 1898, and later in his 1901 book, Social Control. Ross “viewed individuals as objects of society’s domination,” and suggested that society had to establish order “by channeling the behavior of its members into orderly relations.” Ross, largely influenced by Gabriel Tarde, did not believe that individuals were rational, but rather, that they would need to be “controlled” in one fashion or another. As some sociologists lamented in the 1920s, “all social problems turn out finally to be problems of social control,” and “the study of society was the study of social control.”
Sociology largely emerged from the University of Chicago (founded by John D. Rockefeller), with the world’s first department of sociology founded in 1892. The sociologists who rose within and out of the University of Chicago made up what was known as the “Chicago School of Sociology.” The school developed the most influential sociologists in the nation, including George Herbert Mead and W.I. Thomas, two scholars who had profound influence on the development of the concept of “social control,” and sociologists became “reform-oriented liberals, not radical revolutionaries or conservative cynics.”
The American Journal of Sociology was founded out of the University of Chicago by Albion Small, who was the head professor of the department of sociology, and became the editor of the journal for thirty years from 1895-1925. Between 1915 and 1940, the University of Chicago was the dominant force in sociology in the United States, and “the dominance of the Sociology Department was representative of the social sciences at Chicago during that period.” The school was largely made the center of not only sociology, but many areas of the social sciences, due to funding from outside sources, namely the major philanthropic foundations created by the Robber Baron industrialists in the early 20th century. The foundations became, in effect, engines of social engineering and perhaps the most effective institutions in the application of social control in modern society.
The Foundations of Social Control
The new industrial elite accumulated millions and even hundreds of millions by the end of the 19th century: Andrew Carnegie was worth roughly $300 million after he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901, and by 1913, John D. Rockefeller was estimated to have a personal worth of $900 million. In the late 1880s, Rockefeller met Frederick T. Gates, a minister, educator, and administrator in the Baptist Church when they were negotiating the founding of a new university, which resulted with a pledge of $600,000 from Rockefeller to found the University of Chicago in 1889. At this time, Rockefeller hired Gates as his associate in charge of Rockefeller’s philanthropic ventures. Gates became central in inculcating the notion of “scientific benevolence” within Rockefeller’s philanthropies. As Gates wrote in his autobiography, “I gradually developed and introduced in all his charities the principle of scientific giving.” Gates advised Rockefeller to form a series of “self-perpetuating” philanthropies.
The circumstances in which the Rockefeller Foundation emerged are notable. In 1913, a coal strike began at a Colorado mine owned by the Rockefellers in the small mining town of Ludlow, where roughly 11,000 workers (mostly Greek, Italian, and Serbian immigrants) went on strike against the “feudal domination of their lives in towns completely controlled by the mining companies.” Repression quickly followed, culminating in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre in 1914, with the Rockefellers hiring the National Guard to attack the strikers and destroy their tent city, machine gunning the crowd and setting fire to tents, one of which was discovered to have housed eleven children and two women, all of whom were killed by the fire.
The Congressional Walsh Commission was founded to investigate the activities which led to violent labour repression at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in Ludlow, though the scope of the Commission was expanded to study philanthropic foundations themselves. The Commission’s founder, Frank P. Walsh, explained:
…the creation of the Rockefeller and other foundations was the beginning of an effort to perpetuate the present position of predatory wealth through the corruption of sources of public information… [and] that if not checked by legislation, these foundations will be used as instruments to change to form of government of the U.S. at a future date, and there is even a hint that there is a fear of a monarchy.
In 1916, the Walsh Commission produced its final report, the Manly Report (after the research director, Basil M. Manly), which concluded that the foundations were so “grave a menace” to society, that “it would be desirable to recommend their abolition.” Frank Walsh referred to foundations as “a menace to the welfare of society.”
As the Walsh Commission began their work, the Rockefeller Foundation sought to join forces with other major corporate leaders to advance their formation of ideology, and attended a conference “held between representatives of some of the largest financial interests” in the United States. This conference resulted in two approaches being pushed forward in terms of seeking to “educate the citizenry in procapitalistic ideology and thus relieve unrest.” One view was the interpretation that the public was provided with “poor quality of facts and interpretation available on social and economic issues.” Thus, they felt there was a need for a “publicity bureau” to provide a “constant stream of correct information” targeted at the lower and middle classes. The Rockefeller Foundation agreed that a publicity bureau was a good strategy, but added that what was also needed was “a permanent research organization to manufacture knowledge on these subjects.” A publicity bureau would “correct popular misinformation,” while a research organization would study the “causes of social and economic evils,” though of course avoiding problematic considerations of institutional analysis or radical critiques. They were instead to focus on “disinterested” and “detached” studies of social problems, portraying themselves as scientists and technicians for society, focused on reform and social control.
Rockefeller interests quickly undertook both strategies. While the Foundation was engaged in the manufacture of ideology (which specifically states that it is “non-ideological,” meaning that it supports power), the corporate arm of the Rockefeller empire hired the first public relations man, Ivy Lee, a Progressive era journalist. The Foundation hired the Canadian labour expert, William Lyon Mackenzie King (who would later become Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister) to manage “labour relations,” promoting “company unions” over “autonomous unions,” thus undermining the freedom of labour to organize and oppose the social order as a whole, bringing them firmly within the corporate-state ideology and institutions.
Ivy Lee, for his part, attempted to undertake “damage control” for the Rockefellers, who were widely despised at the time, acting as a PR man, disseminating communiqués to media and educators attempting “to cultivate middle-class allies.” His efforts at stemming animosity toward the Rockefellers following Ludlow failed, but for years he continued to present “the human side of the Rockefellers,” earning him the rather unfavourable nickname “Poison Ivy.”
While Lee’s specific efforts were unsuccessful, the ideas behind them continued to grow and evolve. Two major social engineering projects were underway: one, the manufacture of ideology, largely the initiative of philanthropic foundations (and the social sciences), and the other, public relations as a modern form of propaganda. Both of these social engineering projects were designed to ensure social control through social engineering, and both were to have a profound impact upon both the definition and function of modern “democracies.”
Through the educational system, the social sciences, philanthropic foundations, public relations, advertising, marketing, and the media, America and the industrialized states of the world developed a unique and complex system of social control and propaganda for the 20th century and into the 21st. It is imperative to recognize and understand this complex system if we are to challenge and change it.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, Research Director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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“A Lot of People Believe This Stuff”: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Public Relations
“A Lot of People Believe This Stuff”: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Public Relations
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
“It’s important, because a lot of people believe this stuff.” – Bill Clinton, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, 5 September 2012
In case you were unaware, Bill Clinton gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention on the evening of September 5, which, the media tells us, revealed Clinton’s “special gift” to “give a boost to Obama’s middle-class hero image.” The speech has been hailed as Clinton’s “come back,” and a “spirited defense” of Obama.. The “rock star,” Bill Clinton, received heaps of praise from celebrities who endorsed his speech, and it’s obviously very important that the public know what Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock, and Alicia Silverstone think of the speech, so lucky for us, the media tells us. It was, “fantastic… common sense,” that Clinton was “up there teaching,” and “breaking it down.”
But it’s also important that the public receive more ‘expert’ analysis from political commentators and reporters, so CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer explained that he had been watching Clinton since 1992 when he was CNN’s White House correspondent, and that, “[t]his may have been the best speech I have ever heard Bill Clinton deliver,” while GOP strategist Alex Castellanos proclaimed, “This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama.” Brit Hume on Fox News (“fair and balanced”) said that Clinton, “is the most talented politician I’ve ever covered and the most charming man I’ve ever met… No one in my view can frame an argument more effectively than he can.” Anderson Cooper shared his wisdom and analysis, explaining that, “[t]he level of detail in the speech was quite surprising… and yet there was a personality.” Chris Matthews on MSNBC chimed in, “I wouldn’t want to be the guy fighting Bill Clinton if the issue is Barack Obama.” But of course, there was some “intelligent criticism” of the speech within the media, so it wasn’t all praise. For example, John King of CNN noted that the speech could “use an editor,” because as various other critics noted, it was “too long.”
So what exactly did Bill Clinton say that was so inspiring and praiseworthy? Well, he went up on stage, and for fifty minutes, successfully achieved the highest degree of hypocrisy possible. His speech could not have been better constructed if it had been written by a public relations firm, itself. And perhaps it was. After all, it’s not that the Clinton’s don’t have a cozy relationship with public relations firms, as Burson-Marsteller, the most prominent PR firm in the United States, ran Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2008. The firm is venerable and highly respected, and has built a very prominent resume of individuals and institutions it has represented, such as Ceausescu in Romania, the Saudi royal family, the Nigerian government when it wanted to discredit claims of genocide during the Biafran war, the Argentine dictatorship which killed roughly 35,000 of its own people, the Indonesian government as it committed genocide in East Timor (ultimately eliminating a third of the entire population while Bill Clinton armed it to do so). Burson-Marsteller also represented Union Carbide following the Bhopal gas leak that killed 15,000 people in India, among other reputable clients.
Controlling the “Bewildered Herd” of “Ignorant and Meddlesome Outsiders”
I mention the public relations industry, because elections are essentially run by the PR industry, and public relations is the officially-sanctioned term for “propaganda.” It is no small coincidence that the founder of the public relations industry, a man named Edward Bernays, also happened to have literally written the book on Propaganda (1928), in which he wrote, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” He added: “it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.” Naturally, explained Bernays, this is merely “a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.”
Bernays of course had experience. In 1917, he was asked by President Woodrow Wilson to join the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a propaganda agency created by the government to rally the American population to support entering World War I, which was popularly perceived at the time as “a rich man’s war.” The CPI was highly successful, and the American people went to war. Bernays and the other propagandists who were involved were so impressed with their manipulation of the public during war-time, that they felt they could do it during peace time as well. Thus, after the war, Bernays soon founded one of the first PR firms in the United States. Walter Lippmann, the most influential intellectual in the United States at that time, encouraged President Wilson to create the CPI, and even suggested the concept of “making the world safe for democracy,” which became Wilson’s “idealistic” democratic vision for the world, still discussed in political science today. Lippmann and other intellectuals of the era recommended using social scientists and other intellectual elites to undertake “systematic intelligence and information control” as a “regular organ of popular government.” This was what Lippmann called the “manufacture of consent.”
Lippmann wrote that, “propaganda, as the advocacy of ideas and doctrines, has a legitimate and desirable part to play in our democratic system.” Harold Lasswell, another leading political scientist of the era, wrote that, “[p]ropaganda is surely here to stay.” In his 1922 book, Public Opinion, Lippmann wrote that for the “manufacture of consent,” society needed “intelligence bureaus” or “observatories” which would distribute “disinterested” information to journalists, governments, businesses, and the society at large. This essentially is the function of think tanks and PR firms. The term “disinterested” is used to refer to the concept that the information and ideas are not shaped by emotional, irrational, or utopian concepts like “morality” or “ethics,” they are simply facts without a perceived ideology.
In his 1925 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann defined democracy for the modern state-capitalist system, which would not only be firmly entrenched within the United States, but exported around the world. Lippmann was quite emphatic: “A false ideal of democracy can lead only to disillusionment and to meddlesome tyranny.” That “tyranny,” of course, was the public interfering in the affairs of the state. Lippmann wrote that, “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us may live free of the trampling of a bewildered herd.” Referring to the public as “interested spectators of action,” Lippmann explained that, “the opinions of the spectators must be essentially different from those of the actors,” designed in such a way that the rulers of society – the corporate-financial elite and the intellectuals that serve them – would be able to continue controlling society with “the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.” What Lippmann recommended in 1922 as the “manufacture of consent,” Bernays recommended in 1923 as “the engineering of consent.” Engineering consent, Bernays later wrote in 1947, “affects almost every aspect of our daily lives.” He explained: “When used for social purposes, it is among our most valuable contributions to the efficient functioning of modern society.”
Presidents and politicians are products of public relations. We are presented with officially sanctioned concepts of democracy, politics, and ideology. We are subsequently given a ‘choice’ between – usually two – different accepted views. This is called “balance.” The difference between the views are primarily tactical, but the fundamentals remain the same. Thus, no matter the political party in power, war and empire are on the agenda, but different views can proliferate on the tactics and assessment of the results of imperial policies. Imperialism itself cannot be questioned, or even acknowledged; it’s simply accepted. The same goes for serving the interests of the corporate and financial elite, which of course are the main actors in determining foreign imperial policy itself. Imperialism and war for the benefit of a parasitic economic and financial elite, however, is not something which the public could openly accept, so we are given different words, definitions, and mythologies of our society and its policies, so that the “invisible governors” – as Bernays referred to them – may continue to “manufacture consent” to the system; thus maintaining ‘social order’, which means to maintain the social hierarchy of power.
Idealistic Democracy in the Land of Simplistic Hypocrisy
When we discuss Woodrow Wilson as president, we give warm and boisterous praise to his “enlightened” vision of “democratic idealism.” In fact, so consistent and engrained is our officially sanctioned respect for Woodrow Wilson’s profound vision, that it was given a special name: “Wilsonian idealism” or “Wilsonian liberalism,” to “make the world safe for democracy.” It was conceived of as a kind of “internationalist” vision for world order predicated on “international cooperation and integration,” countering political realism which viewed the international arena as one of anarchy where states act in their own self-interest.
Wilson of course, was not concerned with acting in “self-interest,” because he had an enlightened vision of “liberal idealism.” No doubt it was this “idealism” upon which Wilson based his invasions and occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, literally sending the Marines into the Parliament to disband it at gunpoint, killing tens of thousands of Haitians and crushing a liberation struggle in the country-side, and re-writing the constitution to allow American corporations to control the resources and buy land. In fact, Franklin D. Roosevelt, another democratic “idealist” president, was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the Haitian occupation (which began in 1915 and lasted until the Roosevelt administration in 1934). FDR took credit for writing the Haitian constitution, and claimed that he was responsible for “running several Caribbean republics.” Roosevelt referred to the Haitian occupation and his work on the new constitution as “an excellent piece of constructive work,” for which “the world ought to thank us.” He explained the common view of elites toward the general population – foreign and domestic – when he explained that in relation to Latin Americans, “You have to treat them like children.” The American media, with the New York Times at the helm, praised the ruthless occupation as a way for America to “advance” the Haitians, who were “a horde of naked niggers.” Wilson’s Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan reflected on his profound knowledge of Haitians when he stated, “Dear me, think of it! Niggers speaking French.”
Wilson occupied the Dominican Republic in 1916, the neighbouring country to Haiti on the island once called Hispaniola when Columbus landed there and eradicated the indigenous population. When the U.S. ended the occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1924, a US-army trained commander, Rafael Trujillo, rigged the elections and became the country’s new dictator. President Hoover congratulated Trujillo on his “auspicious” victory. When FDR became president in 1933, he implemented his “Good Neighbor” policy for Latin America, meaning that America would be a “good neighbour” to ruthless tyrants like Trujillo so long as they served American interests. During this time, Trujillo, America’s “staunch friend” – as one American businessman referred to him – murdered roughly 25,000 Haitians in Dominican territory in an effort to “purify” and protect the ethnic superiority of the Dominican race. The genocide, however, created bad publicity for America’s support of Trujillo, since it drew obvious comparisons to similar dictators of the same era in Italy and Germany. So FDR’s administration undertook a “massive public relations effort” for the Trujillo regime, which included having biographies written about Trujillo in which he was described as emblematic of “democratic” and “humanitarian” virtues.
In his speech at the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton referenced all the good work he has done for Haiti, explaining that he was “honored” to have worked with both president’s Bush and Obama in Haiti through various crises in the impoverished country. He presented this as evidence of how he is not a divisive politician, but seeks to work “with Democrats, Republicans and independents,” and that they “focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities.” Well, how is Clinton’s record in Haiti? Should this question not be asked?
After the American occupation of Haiti ended, a dynastic dictatorship emerged as father and son Duvaliers ruled Haiti with an iron fist, and US support. When the dictatorship could no longer be sustained, it collapsed in the mid-80s, and following a series of military governments, Haiti undertook mass democratic elections in 1990, through which a populist priest and practitioner of Liberation Theology (the view that the purpose of Christianity was to fight for and liberate the poor from their poverty and oppression), Jean Bertrand Aristide, became victorious in securing the presidency. Aristide campaigned on empowering the extremely poor peasant population, which infuriated the local economic elite, who called him “the devil,” as well as U.S. corporate investors, since he attempted to implement the rather radical policy of doubling the minimum wage in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. This was obviously unacceptable and “irresponsible,” so in September of 1991, less than a year after being elected President, Aristide was deposed in a military coup. The CIA had formed close links with Aristide’s political opponents, and undertook a campaign to discredit him. Officially, the American government denounced the coup, though within days urged the military dictatorship “toward sharing power with the Parliament.” Economic sanctions were imposed, but quickly lifted in 1992 for the benefit of American corporations in Haiti as the State Department sought an “acceptable” political compromise. Aristide was pressured to sign an agreement that would allow him to “share” power and return to Haiti to continue the rest of his term as little more tan a figurehead.
When Clinton came to power in 1993, his administration continued the process of negotiations aiming to bring Aristide into the “solution,” but only “when conditions permit,” and he agreed to share power with the US-favored candidate in the 1990 elections, a former World Bank official who was installed by the military coup. Meanwhile, the military government had killed thousands of Haitian civilians who were Aristide supporters. When an agreement was announced with Aristide, the military government in Haiti – armed by the US – quickly accelerated its murderous campaign. The US negotiations with Aristide focused on the perceived “need” for Aristide to “share” power with the military, because the Americans – who created the Haitian military force during the first US occupation of the country – viewed it as a source of “stability.” However, the military government refused to have Aristide return and share power with him in any capacity. Thus, Clinton’s National Security Advisor Anthony Lake instructed his staff at the National Security Council (NSC) to construct “Haitian invasion scenarios.” The United States, however, was a promoter of “democracy,” so it needed to install a “civilian” government, and not be seen supporting a ruthless military dictatorship so openly. Aristide was given advice by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), run by the U.S. State Department, as well as the World Bank and IMF, who “educated” Aristide on “suitable” economic plans for Haiti once he returned to power. It should be noted, however, that the CIA, several State Department officials, as well as several Democratic and Republican politicians felt it was a bad idea to return Aristide to power, and commonly referred to him as a “psychopath.” Obviously, someone would have to be a “psychopath” to attempt to raise the minimum wage in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In 1994, Clinton invaded Haiti with 20,000 troops in what was called “Operation Uphold Democracy,” which not only re-installed Aristide to finish his term, but ensured that the coup leaders and perpetrators of atrocities were not held to account for their crimes, the result of a deal brokered by the “human rights” president Jimmy Carter, whom Clinton dispatched to Haiti in order to negotiate a deal with the military. The United States occupation forces handed over “control” of Haiti to a United Nations ‘mission’ of 6,000 soldiers in 1995, with US forces expected to leave in 1996, when Aristide’s term finished and he was replaced with a business-friendly leader. Though in 1995, Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, reassured the U.S. Senate that, “even after our exit in February 1996, we will remain in charge by means of USAID and the private sector.”
This is called the “restoration of democracy.” While Clinton sent 20,000 troops to Haiti to “restore democracy,” Obama sent 10,000 troops to Haiti to “restore order” following the devastating earthquake which killed several hundred thousand people who were living in the slums that were created through World Bank and IMF policies of austerity and structural adjustment, many of which were imposed during the Clinton administration. When Obama sent his troops to Haiti, he pledged that the “United States is in Haiti for the long haul.” Indeed the U.S. has been invading and exploiting Haiti and punishing its population for over 200 years, so why stop now?
“The Price is Worth It”: How To Get Away With Murdering Half a Million Children
In his speech at the DNC, Clinton also praised Obama’s “successful end of the war in Iraq.” Clinton, of course, has had a great deal of experience when it comes to Iraq. After Iraq had stopped being a pliant U.S. puppet, George Bush Sr. waged a brutal war against the country, after which economic sanctions were imposed, lasting through the duration of the Clinton administration. The sanctions, in fact, began in 1990 before the first Gulf War, which destroyed the entire infrastructure of the country. Margaret Thatcher explained that the purpose of the Iraq war was to “destroy the entire military, and perhaps industrial, potential of that country.” The sanctions from 1990 to 2000 resulted in the deaths of roughly 1.5 million Iraqis, over 500,000 of which were children under the age of 12. The New York Times praised the sanctions as one of the “greatest successes” for the UN in Iraq. Three top UN officials who were sent to Iraq to monitor the sanctions and provide humanitarian assistance resigned in protest against the sanctions, explaining that they were causing immense harm to the civilian population. When Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked in 1996 about the 500,000 children killed by the sanctions, Albright stated, “we think the price is worth it.”
Obama of course, has learned a valuable lesson from Clinton, and imposed sanctions on Iran in order to punish the Iranian population. The day before Clinton spoke at the DNC endorsing Obama, the Financial Times reported that the US-imposed sanctions on Iran were having the predictable effect as they were hitting medical patients especially hard, as deliveries of medicine and raw material for Iranian pharmaceutical companies was either stopped or delayed, as “access to medicine has become increasingly limited.” One Iranian medical NGO official commented, “This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights.”
However, these are exactly the intentions of sanctions. When Castro overthrew the U.S.-supported dictatorship in Cuba in 1959, Cuba became the primary enemy of the United States because, in the words of a 1960 National Intelligence Estimate, of Cuba’s “successful defiance of the U.S.” As the Eisenhower administration – and the Kennedy administration following him – designed and implemented harsh economic sanctions, top officials were quite blunt in their internal discussions about the effects and intent of the policies. Eisenhower noted that if the Cuban people “are hungry, they will throw Castro out,” since the “primary objective” of the sanctions, the president noted, was “to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies.” Kennedy administration officials explained that the sanctions – and the accompanying covert warfare – were designed to alienate “internal support” in Cuba to Castro’s government, “based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship,” which meant that US policy had to aim “to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of the government,” explained one State Department official.
“It Takes Some Brass”: Serving the Corporate Consensus with the Politics of Poverty
The media outlet, PolitiFact, reported on Bill Clinton’s DNC speech, writing that the former president “received a hero’s welcome,” and then confirmed Clinton’s statements on the economy as “true.” Well, what are some things that Clinton said about the economy? One thing Clinton stated was that, “It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics,” adding that, “poverty, discrimination and ignorance restrict growth.” He proclaimed that the Democrats “think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it.” Clinton noted that the Republicans “want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts.” Clinton, while referring to a Republican politician, noted, “it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.” While the audience laughed, applauded, and cheered at that statement, the irony was lost on the fact that Clinton was doing just that: “attacking a guy for doing what [he] did.” Clearly, Clinton has “some brass” to not only do that, but to actually comment on that technique.
It’s truly an amazing exercise in absolute hypocrisy to see a man stand up in front of millions of people and blame Republicans for wanting to get rid of “pesky financial regulations” when his administration was largely responsible for getting rid of the most important “pesky financial regulations” – such as the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act – which Obama has obviously not even considered re-instating. The economic crisis – which is only going to get worse, since Obama has ensured that the next financial crisis will be much more severe than the last one – was not caused by a political party, it was caused by a socio-political and economic ideology that we call ‘neoliberalism.’ This ideology was and still is endorsed and promoted by Republicans and Democrats alike. So from Reagan onwards, every single U.S. president is responsible for creating and making the economic crisis worse, because they implemented policies which were designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And when the system crashes, as it inevitably does, the government moves in to save the banks and financial institutions from their crimes, and hand the people the bill.
Under Bill Clinton, the derivatives market exploded as financial institutions were deregulated, major mergers approved – creating what we now call “too big to fail” banks – which since Obama’s “economic recovery” are bigger and more dangerous than ever. Under Clinton, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates at historic lows and provided liquidity (money) to help build the housing bubble, with which Clinton’s unregulated derivatives market saw an explosion in speculation, not only allowing banks and hedge funds to help create the financial crisis, but also to profit from it, as Goldman Sachs did (which was Obama’s main campaign contributor in his 2008 election). Clinton’s administration had the Department of Housing and Urban Development pressure the mortgage giants – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – to provide mortgages to low-income borrowers, which helped build the housing bubble under an illusion of prosperity. The Glass-Steagall Act, which was put in place in 1933 in response to the Great Depression, was designed to prevent another Great Depression. So of course, banks like JP Morgan, Citicorp and others lobbied heavily to have it repealed (as a barrier to “growth”), and the Federal Reserve and Clinton’s Treasury Department responded to the demands of their constituents – the banks and corporations that they represent in government – by dismantling these “pesky financial regulations.” Thus, Alan Greenspan at the Fed, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers at the Treasury were among the key architects of the economic collapse, along with their constituents at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.
So naturally, when Obama became president, it was important to appoint all the people who caused the crisis to positions in which they are responsible for solving the crisis they helped create. So Obama appointed Larry Summers to be his chief economic adviser, and of course, Timothy Geithner who previously served as President of the New York Federal Reserve, where he was appointed to that position by the major Wall Street banks he was to represent. Geithner was also a protégé of Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Rubin had since become an executive at Citigroup, rewarded for his work in dismantling “pesky financial regulations” and thus able to profit from the crisis he helped create. Summers had previously shown his propensity for “morally right and good economics” – as Clinton described it – when he was Chief Economist at the World Bank in 1991, where he wrote a secret memo advocating Western nations and corporations to dump toxic waste in poor African countries because by the time the effects of cancer emerge, statistically speaking, the population would already be dead because their life expectancy was so low. Thus, wrote Summers, “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”
Clearly, Clinton’s economic policies as president – and those of which he has endorsed in Obama’s administration – were a triumphant success for the dominant banks, financial institutions and corporations that own the government. Despite all the evidence of Goldman Sachs having engaged in repeated criminal activity in causing the financial crisis and profiting off of it (not to mention getting massive bailout funds from Obama), Obama’s [In]Justice Department recently announced that the U.S. government “will not prosecute Goldman Sachs.” And of course not, why would Obama prosecute the bank that was his number one financial contributor in his 2008 election campaign. Though of course, it should be noted, that Obama’s 2008 campaign had some diversity among its top donors: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and UBS, among others. The financial institutions preferred Obama over John McCain in 2008, and it was a smart investment for them. After all, Obama’s bailouts gave the banks $16 trillion.
No surprise then, to see that Obama’s top campaign donors in 2012 include Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. And since the U.S. Supreme Court voted in January of 2010 to allow corporations to contribute as much money as they want to election campaigns – under “constitutional free-speech rights” – campaign spending has increased dramatically. Thus, while Wall Street gave the Obama campaign $16 million in 2008, that number has soared during the current election, with the same contributors donating to Romney. Among Romney’s current top supporters are Morgan Stanley, Bank of American, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs, with Obama getting more support from Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others. While Obama parades around calling Wall Street executives “fat cats,” Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $14 million from the “fat cats” through the end of April 2012.
Clinton stated at the Democratic Convention, reflecting upon his economic policies of the 1990s, “We could see that the policies were working, that the economy was growing… [and] by 1996 the economy was roaring,” neglecting to mention it was a roaring bubble built upon speculation and debt. This, of course, received a thunderous applause for Clinton as he spoke, adding that President Obama “has laid the foundation for a new, modern successful economy of shared prosperity. And if you renew the president’s contract, you will feel it. You will feel it.” He had to repeat that part because people haven’t been “feeling it,” so it was important to remind them that current conditions are no basis for assessing the future. One must assess the future based upon pure “faith.” Hence, “you will feel it” is repeated despite all the policies that indicate otherwise.
Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general responsible for oversight of Obama’s bailout program, recently published a book entitled, “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street,” in which he wrote, “I had no idea that the U.S. government had been captured by the banks,” but this became clear as the bailouts were “setting the country up for potentially catastrophic losses.” In his final report as inspector of the bailouts, Barofsky wrote: “The prospect of more bailouts will continue to fuel more bad behavior with potentially disastrous results.” In other words, the concept of “too big to fail” is an insurance policy for banks, telling them that the government will always be there to save them, and thus, they have no incentive to engage in safe financial practices, and are actually encouraged to continue making highly risky and speculative investments, paving the way for the next financial crisis at which time they will be bailed out again. Barofsky called the bailouts a “colossal failure,” under which the Treasury Department “made almost no effort to hold [the banks] accountable, and the bounteous terms delivered by the government seemed to border on being corrupt.” Just more of Clinton’s “morally right and good economics,” no doubt.
“Free Trade” and Costly Poverty: A Bi-Partisan Consensus
Clinton of course, also implemented the NAFTA agreement, which is a protectionist corporate-dominated system of economic integration and exploitation between Mexico, Canada, and the US, undermining labour, de-industrializing the northern countries, exploiting the labour of poor Mexicans, and undertaking a concerted assault against the middle class. Thus, it is called a “free trade agreement,” though it consists of thousands of pages of rules and regulations expanding corporate rights and domination of the economy. This is perhaps what Clinton was referring to when he said that Democrats work towards “advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment” in order to provide “real opportunities” for “a strong middle class.” Those statements were of course met with thunderous applause and cheers.
Back during the 2008 campaign, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said that they would renegotiate NAFTA, and even suggested that the United States would pull out of the agreement. While campaigning, they made these statements at a debate in Cleveland, Ohio, where NAFTA is “wildly unpopular with blue-collar workers,” due to all the manufacturing jobs that were lost as a result of the trade agreement. Hillary Clinton stated that she would “renegotiate it on terms that are favourable to all of America.” Obama agreed with Hillary at the debate, stating, “I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right.” Obama said that he would “ensure that we actually get labour and environmental standards that are enforced… That is something that I have been consistent about.”
The Canadian business and financial elite – and their mouthpieces in the media – immediately declared the sky to be falling as a result of presidential hopefuls suggesting to renegotiate NAFTA. It was leaked to the Canadian media that a senior member of Obama’s campaign team contacted the Canadian Consulate in Chicago to inform them that when Obama talks about renegotiating or “opting out” of NAFTA, “it was just campaign rhetoric not to be taken seriously.” In other words, he was just lying to get into power. The statements were made by Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s senior economic adviser during his campaign. Goolsbee further informed Canadian officials that Obama’s stand on free trade during the campaign trail was “more reflective of political maneuvering than policy,” and that Obama’s language “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” In other words, it is important to completely ignore everything Obama says while he is campaigning for president, because it is all lies meant to be consumed by the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders,” the voting public. It does not reflect the actual policies and plans of Obama, which the public is not to be informed of.
So why lie about NAFTA? In Ohio, where the pledges to renegotiate NAFTA were made, the trade agreement led to the loss of roughly 200,000 manufacturing jobs, while the U.S. as a whole lost some 3.1 million jobs between 1994 and 2009 due to NAFTA, which also led to a trade deficit with Mexico and Canada that was $9.1 billion in 1993, and has since risen to $138.5 billion in 2007. During the presidential campaign, national polls revealed that 56% of the American population was in favour of renegotiating NAFTA. In Mexico, hundreds of thousands of people had marched in opposition to NAFTA, demanding renegotiations, and in Canada, 61% of the population favour renegotiation.
Public opinion polls are extensively studied by the public relations industry and political strategists, who advise politicians during their campaigns (and once they take power). Because public opinion is in favour of renegotiating NAFTA, the rhetoric of politicians must reflect public opinion, so that the politicians are viewed in a good light and get the votes they need to get into power. However, because politicians are put in power to serve the interests of corporate and financial institutions, it can only remain as rhetoric, because renegotiating is against the interests and desires of the economic and financial elite, who are, after all, the major financial contributors to electoral advertising campaigns. So public opinion must be studied so that it can be used to manipulate the public – “the engineering of consent” – but then it must also be immediately undermined and dismissed, so that policy does not actually follow public opinion. Rather, public opinion – to the best degree possible – must be influenced to follow policy.
Raymond Chretien, former Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. and nephew of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien (who implemented NAFTA in cooperation with Bill Clinton), said in November of 2008, just following Obama’s successful election, that Obama “will likely find a way to back off his election campaign promise to renegotiate” the agreement, adding, “once in power in January, once apprised of what is at stake here,” meaning, massive corporate profits, “I doubt very much that he will want to reopen that.” Within less than a month of becoming president, Obama stated that his promise to renegotiate NAFTA “will have to wait”; forever, no doubt. Kind of like closing the torture camp at Guantanamo.
So apart from just lying about trade agreements to get into power, what is Obama’s actual record as president on trade agreements? Negotiations were begun under the Bush administration in 2008 for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and of course, since the difference between Obama and Bush was one of rhetoric, the negotiations continued in the same manner: secretly.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been working for over three years on a massive so-called “trade agreement” behind closed doors, with input given only to 600 corporate lobbyists who have had access to the draft deal and negotiations, which have otherwise been kept secret from the public. Just part of Obama’s promised “transparency,” no doubt. The agreement includes the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, among others. Roughly 133 Democratic representatives wrote a letter to Obama demanding access to the “secret texts” of the trade deal, with public interest groups warning that millions of jobs could be lost as a result of the agreement.
While it is called a “trade agreement,” only 2 of the 26 chapters in the TPP have to do with trade, with the majority of the rest dealing with establishing corporate rights, protections, privileges, as well as constraints on “pesky” government regulations. Among these new “rights” and “privileges” for corporations (who obviously do not have enough rights and privileges as it is) include more job offshoring, protections to allow monopolies to raise prices, as well as new corporate controls established over natural resources. The deal also includes threats to food safety, land use, environmental protection, energy use and control, as well as a special chapter on “copyrights” which includes a massive threat to Internet freedom, which was previously stalled in Congress with the attempted Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Obviously, dismantling Internet freedom through a corrupt institution like Congress failed due to public pressure, and thus, Congress is still too influenced by the “meddlesome and ignorant outsiders,” so it’s better that such an agreement be negotiated in secret with 600 corporations.
Documents from the deal have been leaked, which is the only way that any of this information has become public. When the documents were leaked, it was reported that the Obama administration “intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations.” In the documents, it was revealed that Obama’s administration has emerged as a very strong advocate “for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.” In other words, the already ineffective and almost-useless and toothless environmental, financial, and labour protections that exist are simply unacceptable to the Obama administration and the 600 corporations Obama is taking his orders from. The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic US laws regarding protections for the environment, finance, or labour rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stated, “We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; [or] require the privatization of our vital public services.” I suppose that was somewhat true, since technically it isn’t a “bilateral” agreement, but rather a “multi-lateral” agreement. Referring to the changed rules for medication – which would allow companies to increase prices and control monopolies over life-saving medications, as well as prevent poor countries from developing cheap alternatives – the U.S. manger of Doctors Without Borders Access to Medicines Campaign, stated, “Bush was better than Obama on this.” The agreement would of course grant similar rights to American corporations in the other countries of the TPP agreement, thus, it serves as a profitable and exploitative bonanza for all multinational corporations involved, and of course, all the populations from the countries involved will suffer as a result. The “international tribunal” which would dictate the laws of the countries would be staffed by corporate lawyers acting as “judges,” thus ensuring that cases taken before them have a “fair and balanced” hearing, as in, fairly balanced in favour of corporate rights over… everything else. The TPP deal is strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobby in the United States, as well as by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who has urged the U.S. to finalize the deal as fast as possible.
Public Citizen is the organization that published the leaked document, a public research institution whose director, Todd Tucker, stated, “The leaked document… shows that in all of the major respects, this is exactly the same template that was used in NAFTA and other agreements that President Obama campaigned against,” and noted that the TPP has provisions that allow other countries to join in the future, potentially becoming a new “global trade agreement, larger than NAFTA.” The American Prospect reported on the TPP leaks, writing that, “the TPP now threatens a slow-motion stealth attack against a century of progressive domestic policy,” though it’s hardly slow-motion, and the policies that exist can hardly be said to be “progressive,” but nonetheless, all the little concessions granted to the demands of the “bewildered herd” of “interested spectators” were simply too much to bear for corporate dominance. Gary Horlick, a former U.S. trade official who had spent four decades involved in trade deals, stated, “This is the least transparent trade negotiation I have ever seen.” In fact, participants in the negotiations and discussions have to sign a memorandum of understanding which forbids them from releasing any “negotiating documents until four years after a deal is done or abandoned.” In short, Obama’s TPP is a “corporate coup.”
The objective with the “unprecedented secrecy” in the negotiations is to have the deal signed before the elections. As the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk noted, “I believe … that we have very faithfully operated within the spirit of the Obama administration to have the most engaged and transparent process as we possibly could.” Though he explained what he meant by “as we possibly could,” when he added that, “there’s a practical reason” for all the secrecy: “for our ability both to preserve negotiating strength and to encourage our partners to be willing to put issues on the table they may not otherwise, that we have to preserve some measure of discretion and confidentiality.” In other words, the secrecy is necessary because if people knew what we were doing behind closed doors, they would oppose it, and the deal would be stopped. Yes, that is very “practical.” When asked if he would release a draft text of the agreement, Kirk replied that it was too early to do that, “there will be a time, once we have agreed on text, that we may – as we have with other agreements – be able to release that.” In other words: “maybe, and by maybe, I mean… nope!” Meanwhile, other nations don’t want to be left out of such an ambitious and “prosperous” trade agreement, as Japan, Canada, and Mexico have been lobbying to be included. But this would require the three countries to implement changes to their already-existing policies which would allow them to even be considered to enter the TPP. In other words, even Mexico doesn’t meet the required standards of desirable corporate exploitation and domination to be considered.
All the secrecy is very important, because as public opinion polls show, the entire population is adamantly opposed to these types of negotiations. An opinion poll from 2011 revealed that the American population has – just over the previous few years – moved from “broad opposition” to “overwhelming opposition” to NAFTA-style trade deals. A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs,” and only 17% of Americans in 2010 feel that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007. A Democratic Party polling firm revealed that 45% of voters were much more likely to support a Democratic candidate if the candidate pointed out how their opponent supported various “free trade agreements” negotiated by George Bush. The same polling agency revealed in 2010 that Americans do not feel “warmly” towards corporations and banks, with only 29% of voters feeling “warm” toward corporations (compared to 13% among non-voters), and 12% of voters felt “warm” toward banks (compared to 16% among non-voters). These are lower ratings than those for Obama, Sarah Palin, the GOP, Democrats, Newt Gingrich, the NRA, labor unions, and much more. Polling showed that voters who vote for Democrats cited “job offshoring” as “the most important issue facing the country,” and felt that Republican support for offshoring was the “most important reason to not vote Republican.”
The extensive polling, which politicians are well aware of, reflects a view that citizens look at corporations and banks unfavorably, and that issues of “free trade” and “job offshoring” feature extremely high in their concerns, and whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, the population is overwhelming in opposition to “free trade” agreements. So, the lesson from all this research on public opinion is not to change the policy to meet the demands of the public, but rather to change the discussion. So “free trade” agreements are simply not discussed, hence the enormous secrecy behind the TPP. Since corporations and banks are viewed so unfavorably, you simply remove them from the discussion. After all, it is the corporations and banks that the politicians are there to serve, and you don’t want to bad mouth your bosses in public too much or too loud (unless it’s “just campaign rhetoric”). Thus, when it comes to blaming the economic crisis on someone, the discussion must be simplified to an absurd little fairy tale in which you remove facts from reality, and create an image and establish a political discourse in which it was either: a) the Republicans did it, or b) the Democrats did it. By framing the discourse at this very basic, black and white manner, you immediately divide people against each other, instead of uniting them in opposition to the banks and corporations which control the politicians and the government. This is done for obvious reasons. You can’t expect a parasite to help you find a way to get rid of parasites. That’s why public relations was invented.
“Jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs jobby-jobs, jobby job-jobbin… Jobs.” – Every Politician Ever
When politicians blather about, they almost always mention this magical word called “jobs.” They usually state that their intention is to “create jobs” or that they have already “created jobs.” This is taken as a testament to their tireless work on behalf of the population that elected them. Jobs are good. So if politicians create jobs, they are doing good… right? Well, what if the word “jobs” meant something different when politicians say it? Perhaps, it would be helpful to seek a definition, so that we can translate political language and understand what is really being said. After all, if you only speak English, and you’re listening to someone who only speaks Spanish, you might recognize a couple of words now and again, but ultimately, you need a translation in order to understand what is being said. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out in countless public speaking events, when politicians say “jobs,” what they mean to say is, “profits.” Perhaps this is worth investigating, no?
First, we must ask some basic questions. Why are jobs important? Because they provide a means of living, of earning income, and thus, generating wealth and prosperity for all. That’s the story, anyway. But essentially we can deduce that jobs are important because they provide income, which we depend on to live. So, if we are to talk about jobs, we have to talk about income.
In June of 2012, the OECD – an international organization of economists representing 34 of the wealthiest countries on earth – released a report noting that the United States is facing “record long-term unemployment, income inequality and lack of investment in education and innovation.” The report noted that for the U.S., “income inequality and relative poverty are among the highest in the OECD.” Only Chile, Mexico, and Turkey rank higher among OECD nations in terms of income inequality. The chances of staying poor are higher in the U.S. than in Europe. As Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD and former State Department official Richard Boucher explained, “If your parents are poor, the chances are you are going to stay poor.” As the comedian George Carlin once said, “It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe in it.” The OECD report also noted, “the ongoing tide of foreclosures will continue to put downward pressure on house prices.” Just more of that “economic recovery” that we are told we are experiencing. Long-term unemployment in the U.S. is especially bad, with 40% of the unemployed – that’s officially 5.3 million Americans – have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. As the report also noted: “Although the middle class have seen their taxes remain roughly constant, or slightly increase, average income taxes have significantly declined for the most wealthy, especially the 1% top earners.”
In 2008, the average household income for the top 1% was $1.2 million, though the percentage is highly skewed, as entry to the top 1% starts at $380,000. The share of total national income going to the top 1% reached an 80-year high in 2007, of 23.5% (and 17.6% in 2009 as the financial market deflated). For the top 0.1%, the inequality is even more pronounced. Their share of total income for the United States was 12.3% in 2007, sinking to a “still disproportionate” level of 8.1% in 2009 with the financial crash. Though this is a general trend in most countries of the OECD nations, it “began sooner, and has gone further, in America.” Increasingly, those who are within the top 1% work in finance, a trend which has increased faster than any comparable business between 1979 and 2005. In 1979, 8% of those within the top 1% worked in finance; in 2005, 13.9% of those in the top percentile worked in finance. For the top 0.1%, in 1979 roughly 11% were in finance, and in 2005 roughly 18% were in finance. The last time that income inequality was even comparable to the present day situation was during the Great Depression.
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in June of 2012 that the United Sates is “no longer the land of opportunity” and “the ‘American dream’ is a myth.” As he detailed in his newest book, The Price of Inequality, “America has the least equality of opportunity of any of the advanced industrial economies.” This inequality will only widen in the coming decades, he warned, because the lack of mobility makes it a reinforcing system, and America will become a two-class society: “People will live in gated communities with armed guards. It’s an ugly picture. There will be political, social and economic turmoil.” Stiglitz, however, said there was a solution: eliminating “corporate welfare” and policies that “create wealth but not economic growth.” In other words, instead of just creating profits for the few, focus on prosperity for the many. However, all U.S. administrations – whether Democrat or Republican – have done the exact opposite.
Between 1979 and 2006, the share of national income that went to the top 1% doubled, while the top 0.1% have amassed a larger share of the national income than at any other point on record. Between 2009 and 2011, the S&P500 (the stock prices of the top 500 companies) went up by over 80%, while median household income declined by more than 10%. While the bottom 50% of Americans own 2.5% of the national wealth, the top 1% own 33.8%. The bottom half of Americans own 0.5% of stocks, bonds, and other investment assets, while the top 1% own 50.9%. As of 2007, the top 1% had 5% of the debt, while the bottom 90% had 73% of the debt. Tax rates for the richest Americans are almost the lowest they have ever been. Productivity of workers has increased exponentially since 1947, but inflation-adjusted wages have remained flat for the same period of time. Between 1990 and 2005, the average pay for a CEO increased by 300%, and corporate profits have doubled, while pay for “production workers” (labour) has increased by 4% and the minimum wage has dropped. In 1970, the top CEOs earned 45 times as much as the average worker; in 2006, the top CEOs earned 1,723 times as much as the average worker. America has more income inequality than Egypt, India, China, Russia, and Iran. This inequality is further strengthened when you examine the generational divide. Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of people under the age of 35 has dropped by 68%, while seniors have gotten 42% richer. Adjusted for inflation, in 1984, the median wealth of someone under 35 was $11,521; in 2009, it was $3,662.
Now we get to the actual subject of “jobs,” of which Clinton spent so much time discussing in his speech at the DNC, that Democrats are better at creating “private-sector jobs” than Republicans, which was met with thunderous applause, and endless articles in the media explaining how “right” he was. Well yes, the “private sector” has added some jobs. This led Obama to say in June that the private sector was “doing fine.” When this created a public relations problem for Obama, he later clarified that it is “absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine.” He added: “If you look at what I said… we’ve actually seen some good momentum in the private sector… record corporate profits… so that has not been the greatest drag on the economy.” Indeed, this is partly true. In May of 2012, the largest 500 corporations (the Fortune 500, as they are called) reported record-breaking profits, with ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart in the top spots. Further, “the combined earnings for the Fortune 500 corporations rose 16% from 2010 to a record high of $825 billion in 2011.” As profits increase, the pay for CEOs increases too, jumping just 6% in one year. In June of 2012, the Federal Reserve revealed that between 2007 and 2010, Americans saw their wealth plummet by 40%. So, Obama was correct in saying that we have seen “record corporate profits,” but incorrect in saying that this was not a “drag on the economy,” as it rapidly accelerates income inequality, which, quite directly, creates a drag on the economy, to say the least.
While the private sector has been adding jobs, the public sector has been cutting them, at both the state and federal level, which has been hitting black Americans the hardest. This has been a significant “drag” on economic growth (it’s called “austerity”), and it is a growing trend, and will continue regardless of whether a Democratic or Republican politician is in office, because it is what is demanded by the economic and financial elite and neoliberal ideology: which dictates “austerity” and “structural reform” as a response to a crisis. When you translate those words, you get “impoverishment” and “exploitation.” This leads to “growth,” which means “profits.” Just like the word “jobs” also often means profits.
When Obama created his “Jobs and Competitiveness Council,” he asked 26 CEOs to form a group to advise the president on how to “create jobs.” The council was headed by Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, but also included other “job creators” like the CEO of American Express. And who better than the CEO of General Electric to lead the charge on “job creation”? After all, General Electric has cut significant amounts of American jobs, so naturally, it’s a logical choice from which to appoint a “jobs czar.” Between 2000 and 2009, the number of Americans employed by GE declined from 162,000 to 134,000, a general trend which saw U.S. multinational corporations reduce their domestic American workforce by 2.9 million people in the past decade, while increasing their overseas workforce by 2.4 million. When Obama appointed GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt as “jobs czar,” President Obama stated that Mr. Immelt “understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.” Indeed, it “takes” undermining labour, worker exploitation, deregulation, offshoring, job insecurity, and government subsidy for corporations. In fact, the ten largest companies on Obama’s “jobs council” have shed over 91,000 jobs since 2009, with General Electric contributing 19,000 job losses to that number.
So, if we do translate the word “jobs” into the word profits, then things tend to make more sense. After all, Obama appointed Immelt as his “jobs czar,” after Immelt cut 19,000 U.S. jobs but helped GE make record profits, and not only that, but GE does not pay any taxes, and instead, claims billions of dollars in tax benefits. Thus, it makes more sense to think of Immelt as the “profits czar” who was put on Obama’s “profits council” to “create profits.” When you translate political language, everything suddenly makes much more sense, because it becomes comprehensible and logical. It just also happens to be rather monstrous and corrupt and infuriating, but that’s why political language is constructed: to not be properly understood. Thus, it was perfectly understandable for Bill Clinton, who implemented NAFTA which led to massive job losses, declining wages and standards of living, increased debt, offshoring, but also immense corporate profits, to explain in his speech that, “we need a lot more new jobs,” but pointed out what a good record Democrats have for “creating jobs.” Indeed, General Electric and Goldman Sachs would agree.
Public Relations Shapes the Debate
Since the economy is a disaster, it is very important to properly shape the discourse on economic issues, most especially during a political advertising campaign, otherwise it would be difficult to maintain any legitimacy. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is a public opinion research and strategic consulting firm that often works with the Democratic Party. Essentially, it is the Democratic Party’s public relations organization. In June of 2012, James Carville, a long-time Democratic Party political strategist who was the lead strategist for Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign, produced a research report along with other top political strategists for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. The report was entitled, Shifting the Economic Narrative, which suggested that the “prevailing narratives articulated by national Democratic leaders” are “vulnerable” in regards to the economic situation. In other words, the Democratic rhetoric and talking points on the economy don’t have much legitimacy. The report wrote that Democrats face an impossible situation in the elections “if we do not move to a new narrative,” or, to construct a new story. This would mean to change the story to “one that contextualizes the recovery but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class.” The report stated that voters “know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool’s errand,” thus, the narrative must shift to discussing “the plans for making things better.” While noting that the Democrats were losing voters on the economy, the report added that the same voters were still leaning toward the Democrats “because Romney is very vulnerable,” since “[t]hey do not trust him because of who he is for and because he is out of touch with ordinary people.” The report noted that the result was that, “it produces a fairly diminished embrace of Obama and the Democrats, the lesser of two evils, without much feeling of hope.”
What voters “want to know,” wrote the report, was that Obama “understands the struggle of working families and has plans to make things better.” It doesn’t matter whether or not this is true, of course, but just that people believe it, and that they “want to know” it. The report noted that it had conducted several focus group research studies on college-educated voters who are ‘independents’ or ‘weak partisans,’ meaning that they only somewhat align with a particular political party. The research was revealing: while most had jobs, they had lower wages and fewer benefits which has left them struggling to pay for groceries. For non-college graduates, the situation is even worse, largely dependent upon food stamps and with many expressing that they feel as if they live in the 1900s where “you’re just slave labour.” Young people also have a disproportionate struggle, and are increasingly moving back home with their parents. Even in affluent suburbs people are “struggling with new realities,” such as “stagnant incomes, pay cuts, and layoffs.” Wile bills go up, paychecks either remain stagnant or go down, and this is most keenly felt in the cost of groceries, gas, cable bills, and medical insurance. These voters, the report suggested, “are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction,” with “no conceivable recovery in the year ahead that will change the view of the new state of the country.” These people, stated the report, “actually have a very realistic view,” and thus, “the current narrative about progress just misses the opportunity to connect and point forward.”
While most of these voters support Obama, “they say it cannot get worse and you have to believe it will get better.” The “optimism” is predicated on the basis that “this has to be rock bottom,” which the report defined as “pessimistic optimism.” The type of “leaders” they are looking for are those “who understand the uncertainty and can lead a way forward.” While the Obama campaign talks about “jobs gained,” wrote the report, “it gains no support beyond 2008 Obama supporters.” On the economy, Romney supporters typically cannot say anything positive except that he is “not Obama.” However, many voters would still choose Romney over Obama when it comes to the economy, but when forced to choose between the two on the whole, “many of the Obama voters work to figure out a way to support him, though it lacks the kind of emotion and rationale that would drive engagement.” In other words, support for Obama tends to be driven more by the fact that he is “not Romney.” In the words of the report, it was that Obama was “the evil you know” and the “lesser of two evils.” While the patience of voters on Obama was “wearing very thin, they still want to believe in him.” All the ideas of voters that support Obama “center on what he should do – not what he has done.” In other words, support is maintained in false hope.
In terms of “shifting the economic narrative,” the research report suggested that, “the strongest message was one focused on the future of the middle class – with minimal discussion of the recovery and jobs created and maximal empathy for the challenges people face.” Thus, the election needs to be about the “future of the middle class.” Two-thirds of those who partook in the focus groups responded positively to this message of helping the middle class, and they reacted well to references of the Clinton era economy (when their wealth was constructed on an illusion of debt and consumption). Ultimately, the report suggested that the best advertising campaign for the Democratic Party and Obama in particular was to “connect on a pocketbook level” and “commit to the programs voters rely on most,” such as Medicaid, Social Security and foodstamps. This rhetoric has “the capacity to be very powerful, particularly when the offer on the other side is suspicious and weak.”
This “shifting message” was well received in Bill Clinton’s speech, where he talked about moving people “out of poverty [and] into the middle class,” and warning people that the Republicans will “hurt the middle class and the poor and put the future on hold.” That phrase, in particular, hit all the right points of discussion as suggested by the Democratic Party’s polling agency: to talk about the middle class, to protect the poor, and to focus on “the future.” That is why, as Clinton was finishing his speech, he said that, “If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining… you have to vote for Obama.” Or that Democrats “think the country works better with a strong middle class.” Or that Republicans want to cut programs “that help the middle class and poor children,” which, of course, is true. But the statement neglects the problematic context that while Democrats may not necessarily “cut” these programs (though again, the evidence of this is scant, but let’s imagine as a hypothetical), the Democrats do continue to create the social conditions in which the middle class and poor struggle more, and thus, become more dependent upon various programs of support. It’s sort of like saying that, “After my opponent beats you with a stick, he won’t let you have a bandaid… But after I beat you with a stick, I at least give you a bandaid.”
Brand Obama: No ‘Hope’ in Hell for ‘Change’
Since the public relations industry runs election campaigns and a good deal of public politics, it only makes sense that the industry itself acknowledges this fact. When it came to Obama’s 2008 election campaign, the public relations and advertising industry were completely ecstatic. Before even being elected president, Obama won the Advertising Age’s “marketer of the year” award for 2008, winning the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads and other industry representatives at the annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers. Obama’s campaign of “hope” and “change” beat Apple for the coveted prize that year. The Vice President of Rodale marketing solutions stated, “I honestly look at [Obama’s] campaign and I look at it as something that we can all learn from as marketers.”
At the Cannes Lion International Advertising Awards in June of 2009, the Obama campaign claimed two of the top awards at the prestigious international advertising and public relations industry awards. His campaign won the Titanium grand prix award, for which the criteria is an advertising campaign that is “provocative, challenges assumptions and points to a new direction.” For example, “hope” and “change.” The Titanium award, according to the organizers at the Cannes ceremony, “celebrates work that causes the industry to stop in its tracks and reconsider the way forward.” The other coveted prize that the Obama advertising campaign received was the Integrated Lions award, referring to a campaign that uses three or more media, such as the press, Internet and television, which is “high standard and state-of-the-art.” One advertising executive commented, “They turned (political advertising) from being one dimensional to something the whole country could contribute to. It was a fantastic idea.” Another advertising executive stated, “it was effective. You couldn’t ignore it. There will never be a political campaign that doesn’t use these tools.”
That same month, Obama’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs received the Public Relations Professional of the Year award from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “for his groundbreaking use of new communications techniques and technologies, as well as successful delivery of campaign messages to a broad electorate.” The chairman and CEO of the PRSA, delivered the award to Gibbs, stating, “Robert Gibbs and his team revolutionized the way presidential candidates speak to voters by engaging best practices in current communications techniques and technologies,” adding: “He transformed static, one-way messaging into a dynamic dialogue to engage an expansive electorate like never before.” Upon accepting the award, Gibbs explained that his campaign had to “focus on the message of change being communicated by our candidate… we knew our success depended on our ability to stay focused on that message and relay it honestly and consistently to people across the country.”
“You Have to Treat Them Like Children” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Whether Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, they are all parasites, whose purpose is to manipulate the public into granting them the “consent” to govern, while they govern for the benefit of corporations and banks to plunder, exploit, and profit at the expense of the population, both at home and around the world, which is often facilitated through war, coups, repression of liberation movements, genocide, and impoverishment. To these people, the public – you and I – are nothing but a “bewildered herd” of “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” who must be kept as the “interested spectators of action.” The more talented a politician is at “manufacturing consent,” the more praise he or she gets from the media, and thus, from the public, itself. It is important to expose the spectacle of “public relations politics” so that we can look underneath the surface of power, and understand the real functions and structure of our society, and thus, we can be more capable of changing it. To take a quote from Bill Clinton out of context when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention, “It’s important, because a lot of people believe this stuff.” When he said this, he was referring to the views of Republicans, but the quote is revealing of Clinton’s arrogance and indeed, his talent as a manipulator of the public mind, because it applies precisely to a public relations event like the Democratic National Convention itself: “a lot of people believe this stuff.”
It seems that it is time that people now place their beliefs in more tangible, factual, and logical realities. As children, we were told fairy tales; as adults, we believe fairy tales. Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt said of Latin Americans back in the early 20th century, “You have to treat them like children.” Well that applies to their view of the domestic population as well. Even though our political parasites continue to treat us like children, we have the choice – and the capacity – to act like adults. That means that we have to begin by dismantling the fairy tales that we believe in. Parents know that there comes a time when they must tell their children that there is no Santa Claus, and while this reality may be difficult for the children at first to accept, they are able to deal with that reality, and intellectually evolve and mature beyond it. People as a whole have the same capacity. Whether or not we utilize that capacity is entirely up to us, because our politicians have no interest in doing so, nor will they. It is up to us to dismantle the mythology ourselves.
The most effective way to do this is to take a very practical and logical first step of applying the same standards to our own society that we apply to others. In other words, instead of pointing to the crimes of state-sanctioned “enemies,” instead of blaming either Republicans or Democrats for all the woes of society, one must engage in social self-reflectionand apply the exact same method of inquiry into the ideas, individuals and institutions of our “enemies” as we do to our own ideas, individuals, and institutions.
I think it’s relatively safe to assume that most people would not want a mass murderer as a close friend, but for some reason, millions of people cheer and applaud mass murderers as their leaders. This obviously has no basis in logic. If mass murder is wrong and immoral, those who commit it or participate in it are also immoral. When someone has clearly demonstrated their capacity for immorality – and their willingness to commit mass atrocities – as Clinton, Bush, and Obama all have, it does not make any logical sense to support these people on other claims of “morality” such as: gay rights, family values, abortion, etc. These are designed specifically as issues which limit the political discourse, which remove any discussion of empire, war, mass murder, genocide, corruption, impoverishment, the dismantling of rights and freedoms, torture, assassinations, coups, exploitation, environmental devastation, surveillance and the construction of a police state apparatus. These divisive issues, which in a functioning democracy would have been solved almost immediately, are designed to facilitate a back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats, to distract the “bewildered herd” with only a few acceptable issues of discussion. Thus, anyone who raises other issues, of much greater relevance, ends up sounding like a Martian; they are perceived as suffering from some sort of “fringe” insanity. But insanity is not “fringe,” insanity is very much mainstream.
If, by chance, issues like war are raised in the political discourse – and most especially during advertising campaigns (which we commonly refer to as “election campaigns”) – then the critique of war policies are themselves confined to an “acceptable” discourse: either the war was a “success”, or it was a “tactical failure.” This implies, immediately, that the objectives of war are always inherently good, because if we wage war, it must be with good intentions. The morality of war – and the reality of empire – are not to be questioned.
When Obama was campaigning for president in 2008, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he referred to the Iraq war as a “distraction” for which he would make “tactical adjustments.” He wrote that the Iraq war was a “strategic blunder.” That “strategic blunder” led to the deaths of over one million Iraqis between 2003 and 2008. Yet, Obama was given praise for his “enlightened” critique of the Iraq war.
We must apply very basic standards of human decency to those who parade about as our leaders and saviors. An enormous amount of effort is put into preventing people from assessing political leadership in a logical, coherent, and rational manner. That is what the public relations industry does. Politicians are products to be marketed, bought and sold, and like most modern products, they fall apart quickly and have to be replaced. We have to begin questioning our political consumption patterns, otherwise we won’t change them, and it is glaringly obvious that what we have, simply isn’t working.
Watching Bill Clinton speak at the Democratic National Convention reminded me of why I don’t watch political speeches. The man stood up on stage for nearly an hour, and talked about how he cared about what poor families will do if the Republicans come to power, that Obama has fixed the economy, and he even felt it necessary to literally state, “Look, I love our country so much,” just in case you had any doubts. Clinton reached divine levels of absurdity and double-think when he stated:
If you want a future of shared prosperity, where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining, where the American dream is really alive and well again and where the United States maintains its leadership as a force for peace and justice and prosperity in this highly competitive world, you have to vote for Barack Obama.
Considering that none of those fantasies exist under Republicans or Democrats, let alone Clinton or Obama, I will simply end with my favourite quote from Clinton during his speech: “a lot of people believe this stuff.” Let’s hope not for long.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
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 “Income inequality: Who exactly are the 1%?” The Economist, 21 January 2012:
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 Leigh Ann Caldwell, “Obama backtracks on comments that private sector is doing “fine”,” CBS News, 8 June 2012:
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 Christina Rexrode and Bernard Condon, “Record profits for big companies spur 6% rise in CEO pay,” Seattle Times, 25 May 2012:
 Ylan Q. Mui, “Americans saw wealth plummet 40 percent from 2007 to 2010, Federal Reserve says,” The Washington Post, 11 June 2012:
 Timothy Williams, “As Public Sector Sheds Jobs, Blacks Are Hit Hardest,” The New York Times, 28 November 2011:
 Zachary Karabell, “The White House and Jeff Immelt on Jobs: Compelling, Infuriating or Simply Irrelevant?” Time Magazine, 15 June 2012:
 Zachary Roth, “With jobs czar under fire, new data confirm offshoring trend,” Yahoo! News, 19 April 2011:
 Susanna Kim, “10 Largest Companies on Obama’s Jobs Council Lost 91K Jobs,” ABC News, 12 October 2011:
 David Kocieniewski, “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether,” The New York Times, 24 March 2011:
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Media Lies, Corporate Ties, and Truth Dies? … Don’t Count on It!
I’m Here to be as Annoying as Humanly Possible to Those in Power
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Our media is a melting-pot of misinformation, bought and owned by billionaires and oligarchs, whether it is public, private, or foundation-funded. Information is integral, propaganda is power, and media is money. Control of the media leads directly to control of the minds of those who consume it, and like all patterns of consumption, it is sustained by profit, but its purpose is much deeper, more pervasive and permanent: social control.
The aim of consumption is to preserve and protect the social order as it exists, to distract a significant – or targeted – portion of the population with being concerned only about progress within the social order, about making more money, consuming more products, climbing this ever-distant and seemingly always just-out-of-reach ladder. The consumer society as we know it today was a product of the early 20th century, born out of an era of deep social unrest, where the ‘Robber Baron’ industrialists – the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, Harrimans, Astors, and Vanderbilts – created such vast fortunes, and dominated the entire economy, bought the politicians, owned the courts, and exploited the people. The poor and working class were in open rebellion, empowered with radical philosophies of resistance and revolution, organized by anarchists and socialists, immigrants and intellectuals. They threatened the entire social order. At the same time, the middle class was not yet consumer based, but rather consisting of professionals and those who earned some – even if a very minimal – benefit from the social order. They were informed through an expansion of the media, through the printing-press and ‘Muckraker journalism’, highly critical of the ruling oligarchs and their lack of concern for the welfare of mankind, yet also born of the university system which was designed to produce intellectuals and professionals concerned with reform, not revolution, concerned with preserving social order instead of overturning the social order.
This was called the Progressive Movement, and though there was critique and concern and the excesses of the ruling class, there was an equal concern about the unrest of the lower class. It was in this context that universities became reorganized and reoriented under the control of the ruling oligarchs, with industrialists and bankers sitting on their boards, founding new schools, and sponsoring the social sciences. The social sciences were conceived as a means toward producing intellectuals who were concerned with maintaining social control: with analyzing specific facets of the social order (politics, economics, sociology, etc) and then offering critiques and reforms to that system, with the objective of making it more secure, more permanent. Major philanthropic foundations were founded in the early 20th century, such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the purpose of engaging in social engineering for social control. They became the primary financiers of social science research and university programs. This was stated quite explicitly by the President of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1933, who wrote that the Foundation’s policies:
were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Media and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control. Many procedures will be explicitly co-operative between [Foundation] divisions. The Medical and Natural Sciences will, through psychiatry and psychobiology, have a strong interest in the problems of mental disease.
These oligarchs controlled the banking institutions of the modern society, and in particular, the central banking system, responsible for printing the currencies, setting interest rates, and thus, controlling the finances of both industry and government. The mechanism of control was through debt. Through their control of banking and finance, this small group of oligarchs were able to influence, of not control, the corporate world and the governmental world, allowing for domination of the economic and political spheres of life. However, it was through the production of knowledge itself that they came to dominate the social world. This was – and remains – the primary objective and activity of foundations and their offspring organizations. This required continued control of universities, maintenance of foundation-funded social engineering (what is commonly called “philanthropy”), the creation and control of major think tanks (responsible for creating social cohesion between elites and organizing public and foreign policy), and domination of the media.
The production of knowledge was not undertaken with the benevolent desire of ‘knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’ but rather with a very clear purpose, as stated in the above-mentioned Rockefeller Foundation quote: control. Those who rule over society, whomever they are, and in whatever era they exist, understand very clearly the power and purpose of knowledge. After all, they have the power because they have the knowledge of what power is and how to attain it. An educated population – one which is capable of reading and writing and developing basic skills and techniques – has been a very important component of a modern, industrial society. It has contributed to the development of what we can call the modern ‘Technocratic’ society, built by the growth of science, technology, communication and information. There is, however, a problem for the ruling class, one which must be watched very closely: while it is important to provide a minimum of education, skills and expertise, it is important to maintain the overall control of consciousness and thought. It is one thing to provide an individual with the ability to understand specific sectors of society and to advance, reform, evolve and change those sectors, to update and evolve, to advance and progress; it is quite another thing, however, to allow an individual to develop the thinking capacity to reflect and understand the wider world in which he or she lives, to question the very nature and composition of society, to reflect on the purpose of humanity and the social order upon which it depends. This type of reflection is and has always been deeply dangerous to any ruling groups through history, and today is no exception.
Just think of the individual capacity of the human mind to obtain and retain masses of information. Think of the average high school girl or high school boy, consuming so much information of entertainment, celebrities, sports, and pop culture: they can tell you every detail of every celebrity’s life, every sports team, player, and all the intricate details of interaction and interest. The sheer wealth of information is impressive to say the least. The unfortunate reality, however, is that it is useless information: it has no point or purpose in the lives of those who consume it. It doesn’t matter who Kim Kardashian is or who she is doing this week. Paris Hilton is an absurd emblem of a society that worships irrelevance. It is really of no personal significance whether or not “your” [insert sport here] team wins or loses a game, it’s just a game, and unless you are playing or know personally someone who is playing, it doesn’t actually impact your life in any meaningful way. These are cultural distractions designed to fill the minds of the masses with useless and insignificant information. The consumer society which was developed in the early 20th century was not simply a society built on the consumption of products and services, but of information. It served to distract the emerging middle class away from questions of social and human concern, and to possibilities of personal and financial progress, to ownership, to products, to a vision of ‘desire’ around which their life was designed to aspire. Humanoids like Paris Hilton – and I hesitate to call such a person an ‘individual’ – serve not only to ‘distract’, but to destroy. Through our worship of wealth, our reveling in irrelevance, we create the image of prosperity, of possibility, of potential and indeed, purpose. The Paris Hilton’s and Kim Car-crash-ian disasters of this world are a symbol of a society that gives priority and purpose to intellectually vacant, vapid, and vacuous entities. Worst of all, is that the youth look to these empty examples of existence as not simply worthy of entertainment, but emulation. Truly, such a state is symptomatic of a severely sick society.
Yet, something is changing. We can feel it in the air, hear it in the wind, taste it on our tongue, smell it in our sinus, and are beginning to experience it in our everyday existence. The Technological Revolution which has brought about this modern ‘Technocratic’ society, this highly-controlled and overly-dominated social order, has created its own antithesis, this thing we call ‘balance’. While technology has facilitated greater control over mankind, with new and scientifically-developed techniques of domination, it has also facilitated the rapid expansion of information and communication. This has allowed for more information than ever before to be consumed by more people than ever before in all of human history. And now, unlike ever before, people are able to communicate with each other, around the world, not through a lens of power – not through the media, the government, corporations, or other institutions – but as individuals, as equals, to listen, speak, and understand each other as individual human beings occupying the same small world, and though we may never meet in person, we exist together, and our struggle is the same.
It is easy to say that we are in unprecedented times. Within such times, unprecedented challenges emerge, challenges for both the people and the powerful. So while we are faced with an elite – increasingly globally interconnected and intertwined – who are armed with more techniques of control and domination than have ever-before been imagined, the elite are faced with an increasingly unprecedented challenge, where the dominated peoples of the world are able to see and speak to one another as individuals, not simply observe as outsiders, where we have access to and the ability to analyze and disseminate more information than ever before. Even the major philanthropic foundations, who have long funded ‘alternative’ media as a means to provide an outlet for moderated dissent, are incapable of controlling the new production of knowledge that is taking place, which is informing individuals and activists around the world. This new ‘independent media’ is largely dependent upon the readers and direct ‘consumers’ of the information itself, not higher ‘sponsors’ and patrons.
I am a member of this ‘independent media,’ as a researcher, writer, and at times, a journalist. I engage in ‘production of knowledge’ much like a foundation-sponsored academic would, though I do so with a distinctly different purpose: not to control for the benefit of entrenched power, but to liberate by means of empowering people with information. For this, I have been accused of being a “propagandist” and “biased,” while the major intellectuals, media pundits, journalists and academics of our institutionally-dominated world declare themselves “neutral,” “unbiased,” “dispassionate,” and “disinterested observers.” I make no reservations about my bias, about by non-neutrality, I do not hold back my passion and I am very interested, and not simply an observer, but at times a participant. I see no value in declaring a lack of passion or a neutral position in situations of domination and oppression, of exploitation and obfuscation. If I am a propagandist, I am a propagandist for the people, not the powerful, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The unfortunate reality of being very independent, with no university, foundation, corporate, or institutional ties of any kind, is that my ability to continue being independent, my ability to continue researching, writing, and disseminating information, is dependent upon the people who ‘consume’ that information itself. My funds are entirely derived of donations from readers and supporters around the world, and so I ask you now that if you so desire, to please support my efforts to continue being a loud-mouthed, annoying, frustrating pest of a person for those in power who think they control everything and everyone without a word of dissent from us plebs and proles below. I truly wish I could provide all my research and writing entirely free, and there are few things that bother me more than asking for money, but unfortunately, I do need to eat and pay rent. So I am asking now for your financial support toward my journalistic endeavours (note: this is separate from The People’s Book Project, which will be getting a big update quite soon).
In the past two months, I have been almost exclusively researching, writing, and speaking about the Quebec Student Movement, the Maple Spring, and to be honest, I have never been so busy or received so much support and encouragement from readers. So now I ask, if possible, to please make a donation of any amount (every bit helps, truly!), so that I can continue trying my best to be the most infuriating individual to those in power that I can be!
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”! … Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
Writing About the Student Movement in Québec: You’re Damn Right I’m “Biased”!
Confessions of a Non-Neutral Observer
For the past month, I have been writing almost exclusively on the Québec student strike and social movement, which erupted in February and has resulted in the provincial government of Québec recently passing a law (Bill 78) which severely limits the rights of students to freedom of assembly and expression, imposing harsh financial penalties for practicing our basic rights and freedoms as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (as if we even need a document to tell us we have these rights!).
I have been writing professionally for roughly four years, and on a wide range of topics, many of them far more controversial than a student strike. However, never before have I experienced such an enormous reaction – both positive and negative – to any issue I have ever written about. My articles are reaching more people – and more varied audiences – than ever before, but they are also inciting more reactions and responses than I have ever been faced with. I always try to respond to comments and emails, but if I were to do so on this issue, I would never get around to writing anything new. So instead, I would like to address the main critique and complaint of my writing on this issue: that I am – and my writing is – extremely “biased” in how I report on this issue.
First off, I would like to thank all who have sent me words of encouragement and support, and who have been sharing and re-posting my articles, it is very important that this information spreads elsewhere, as the English-speaking media in Canada have been almost exclusively terrible in their coverage of the student protests here in Québec. Secondly, I would like to thank all those who have sent me critiques, who have pointed out flaws and problems in various points and arguments I have made, and in doing so, have provided further avenues for research. Without critique, no researcher can make progress. There are a number of issues related to the student movement that I know I will need to do more research on, and it is entirely due to these critiques that I will do so. So keep on keeping me on my toes!
I would, however, like to address the most common ‘critique’ and complaint about my writing and my point of view: that it is “biased.” My simple response to this is: you’re god damned right it is!
We all have bias by the very simple fact that we are all biased to our own opinions, so long as we are capable of developing our own individual opinions and beliefs. We are all biased for the simple fact that we view ourselves and the world from our own individual perspective. When anyone or any information source claims to be “unbiased,” that is when my internal alarm begins to ring. There are, arguably, unbiased ‘facts’ (as Einstein once said, “facts are stubborn things”), but there are not unbiased ‘views.’ Facts can help inform our views, and what facts we gather, how we gather them, from where we gather them, largely determine the ‘view’ we take in constructing them together.
So yes, I have a bias, but let me explain what it is. I am biased in favour of people over power, in favour of the oppressed over the oppressors, and in favour of freedom over domination. I am, however, a researcher. I don’t have many talents: I can barely cook, I don’t speak more than one language, I don’t play sports, I don’t play an instrument, I can’t even whistle; but one thing I am good at, is research. I know where to look, how to look, to draw from a multitude of sources, and to put together a massive array of information into something that is at least a half-coherent composition of information. Like all talents, it’s practice that makes it better, and I am still learning and improving (as I should be). My writing is almost always heavily cited and sourced, so that people may track my research and where I got my information from, instead of just “taking my word” for it. The only reason I progressed as a researcher is because I would try to find the original sources of others, to see the information for myself and to see how and if I would interpret it differently from them. I have even spent hours tracking down original sources in government archives which were cited by Noam Chomsky, not because I think he is lying or misrepresenting the facts, but because it is simply important for me to see the original source for myself. I encourage others to do the same, so I always try to make my writing accessible to this approach. Despite this, I have received many critiques that I have not “supported my arguments” in my recent articles on Quebec. This, I simply cannot understand, save for the possibility that those making the critique do not know what hyperlinks are or how they work (I don’t just highlight the words for fun!).
But back to the bias!
My research in history, on a number of different social, political, economic and cultural issues, has not been defined by my bias, but has rather defined my bias. It is precisely the research and reading and studying I have done that has established, informed, and strengthened my own personal bias. That is not to say it is unchanging: with each new subject studied, with new information gathered, I must adjust, evolve, and alter my views according to the knowledge I come across. And yet still, I find this central bias remains: that of favouring the oppressed over the oppressor. It is this view that shapes my own understanding of history and the present, and for that reason, this has become my own ‘Truth': how I see and understand the world.
I do not pretend to be unbiased, or balanced, or neutral in my writing, simply because I do not see the value in doing so. I see no value or honour in presenting oneself as ‘balanced’ in reporting on circumstances which are so imbalanced. I see no value in being ‘neutral’ in writing about circumstances of injustice, oppression, and domination. I see no justice in presenting an ‘unbiased’ view of injustice. Why should the oppressor get “equality” in how situations are interpreted and presented when the oppressed never have equality of power with the oppressor? How is this “balanced”? Situations which are inherently imbalanced do not require black and white interpretations, do not require an equal presentation for the oppressed view as well as the oppressor’s view. One does not give “both sides of the argument” on the issue of war and mass murder, on the issue of slavery, on the issue of domination and oppression. The simple reason for this is that it is morally reprehensible to put the perspective of injustice and oppression on the same moral grounding as that of the dominated and oppressed. A more “logical” reason, perhaps, is that because of the simple social position of the oppressor – always in positions of power – is that they already have a larger share of control over the discourse: they speak for the state, providing the “official” line; they control the media, they have a monopoly of interpretation and control over dissemination.
This creates an automatic imbalance in how things are interpreted and presented. Rarely are there cries against this information-Casino system (where the house always wins), proclaiming it to be “biased” or “imbalanced.” Instead, publications like the National Post and the Globe and Mail may say anything they like, any way they like, and they are simply “reporting the facts.” Across Canada, newspapers may refer to the students in Québec as “violent,” “thugs,” “spoiled brats,” wannabe terrorists,” and “idiots,” and yet, where is the outcry against their “bias” and lack of “balance.” The media, almost without fail, make reference to official statements from the police regarding protests and “riots”, without providing any other perspective or statements. You read this in the media as, “a police spokesperson said…”, etc. How often do you read, “participants in the protest stated…” etc.? Is that not a lack of balance?
Gary Lamphier writing for the Edmonton Journal referred to the students, in the span of one article alone, as the following: “gangs of kids, buffoons, wannabe terrorists, idiots, miscreants, sanctimonious jerks, selfish, loutish, moronic,” and lastly, “rock-throwing idiots in Quebec.” This is, of course, compared to the “hard-working students and citizens” whose lives are being disrupted by “a cancer.” Perhaps the most common term used to describe the students in Quebec is “entitled.” Of course, this type of elevated intellectual discourse is perfectly acceptable in the mainstream media. When some protesters entered UQAM school and disrupted classes, with one report of even attempting to pull two students out of the class, the media reaction was swift, furious, and international. These are not tactics I particularly favour or condone; it certainly doesn’t help the image of the student movement and I think there are more effective avenues for engagement and action. However, the reporting on this incident was almost exclusively in a chorus of condemnation. The students who occupied and disrupted the school were called: “protest gangs“, “hard-core protesters,” and “thugs.”
Now, the tactics may not have been good or helpful, but perhaps a little context would be important: for three months of striking, the government spent two months ignoring and dismissing and refusing to talk to the students, then it attempted to divide the students against each other. The state has intervened to provide legal injunctions to even small groups of students in an effort to use them as “strike breakers” by legally enforcing their return to the schools (as the state does not recognize the legal right of students to strike), and it has been enforcing that with the blunt force of the baton, the sting of pepper spray, and the taste of tear gas. The state has repeatedly used violence against protesters: pepper spray, beatings with batons, tear gas, smoke bombs, concussion grenades, driving police trucks and cars into groups of students, shooting them in the face with rubber bullets, and undertaking mass arrests. One student lost his vision in one eye after being shot in the face with a concussion grenade, another lost his eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet, and another ended up in the hospital with a skull fracture and brain contusion, also after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet. When a few students threw smoke bombs in the Montreal Metro, they were charged on “anti-terrorism” charges, and the national media loudly condemned them. Again, the tactics were not helpful, but this also followed the Victoriaville violence against students, where several were almost killed (which did not get anywhere near the same national and international media coverage). Violent actions create increasingly violent reactions. While throwing smoke bombs in the metro is a bad tactic, police shoot smoke bombs at students on a regular basis, but the students are “terrorists” and the police are “restoring order.” All this context does not exist in the media discourse.
And now, with the passage of Bill 78, which is “unconstitutional,” as it puts severe limits on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and imposes immense financial penalties for exercising our rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter and Rights and Freedoms, the situation has become more intense, the risks are greater, and the state is all the more oppressive.
In short, the situation which exists between the students and the state in Québec is inherently imbalanced. I see no value in presenting a “balanced” argument about a circumstance in which no balance exists. I see no value in presenting oneself as “neutral” in situations of oppression, exploitation, and domination. The perspective of the state is given by the state and its spokespeople, is repeated in the media, and backed up with the economic power of the corporations and banks (who own the media). It’s always easy for power to speak in support of power. Nothing is demanded of them, except for allegiance. They are held up to low standards, require little to no proof, and can even openly call for violence to be used against students, and it all goes unquestioned, their views are “facts” and their “bias” is overlooked.
I may use harsh rhetoric, but I back it up with hard facts. I may write that the National Post knows nothing of democracy, but that is because I have never seen that publication support any grassroots, indigenous, or social movement for democratic progress: I have seen that publication support war, justify empire, encourage violence, condone oppression and demonize progression. Respect must be earned, and I have never read anything worthy of respect out of that publication, worthy of the values and ideals I hold dear. So yes, I do not restrain my rhetoric in describing it. Is it inflammatory? Perhaps. But I believe it to be the truth, at least as I see it.
What we, here in Québec, see and experience in the streets is a world away from what we read in the English media across the country. The disparity is so vast, the misrepresentation is so consistent, the rhetoric is entirely dismissive, insulting, and even hateful, the discourse is vitriolic and ill-informed, the lies are expansive, and the presentation is perverted. So am I biased? Absolutely! I will always stand with the people against the violence of the state, against the lies and misrepresentations of the media, and the abuses of authority. What others call neutrality, I call cowardice. I do not pretend to be or present myself as an unbiased or “dispassionate” observer. I have marched in the streets, I have friends far more involved at every level of the protests than I have been, I know people who have been arrested, attacked, and gassed; I marched in peace with peaceful friends, and we were charged by riot cops. I watched as the police threw students face first into the pavement and ran out of the way as the riot police drove their van through a crowd of students. I listen to more intense and infuriating stories from friends and others. We see the images and hear the stories and watch the videos of those who have been seriously injured. We are pepper sprayed, gassed, beaten and bruised, and then to add… we are insulted and degraded by the national media. We are referred to as “spoiled brats” and “entitled” fools.
Am I biased? You’re damn right I am!
Solidarity, brothers and sisters!
For a “biased” view of the student movement, here is list of my articles on the subject:
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement
The student strikes in Quebec, which began in February and have lasted for three months, involving roughly 175,000 students in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province, have been subjected to a massive provincial and national media propaganda campaign to demonize and dismiss the students and their struggle. The following is a list of ten points that everyone should know about the student movement in Quebec to help place their struggle in its proper global context.
1) The issue is debt, not tuition
2) Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent
3) The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims
4) This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon
5) Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students
6) Excessive state violence has been used against the students
7) The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students
8) Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students
9) The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students
10) The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power
1) The issue is debt, not tuition: In dismissing the students, who are striking against a 75% increase in the cost of tuition over the next five years, the most common argument used is in pointing out that Quebec students pay the lowest tuition in North America, and therefore, they should not be complaining. Even with the 75% increase, they will still be paying substantially lower than most other provinces. Quebec students pay on average $2,500 per year in tuition, while the rest of Canada’s students pay on average $5,000 per year. With the tuition increase of $1,625 spread out over five years, the total tuition cost for Quebec students would be roughly $4,000. The premise here is that since the rest of Canada has it worse, Quebec students should shut up, sit down, and accept “reality.” THIS IS FALSE. In playing the “numbers game,” commentators and their parroting public repeat the tuition costs but fail to add in the numbers which represent the core issue: DEBT. So, Quebec students pay half the average national tuition. True. But they also graduate with half the average national student debt. With the average tuition at $5,000/year, the average student debt for an undergraduate in Canada is $27,000, while the average debt for an undergraduate in Quebec is $13,000. With interest rates expected to increase, in the midst of a hopeless job situation for Canadian youth, Canada’s youth face a future of debt that “is bankrupting a generation of students.” The notion, therefore, that Quebec students should not struggle against a bankrupt future is a bankrupted argument.
2) Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent: Nearly 60% of Canadian students graduate with debt, on average at $27,000 for an undergraduate degree. Total student debt now stands at about $20 billion in Canada ($15 billion from Federal Government loans programs, and the rest from provincial and commercial bank loans). In Quebec, the average student debt is $15,000, whereas Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have an average student debt of $35,000, British Columbia at nearly $30,000 and Ontario at nearly $27,000. Roughly 70% of new jobs in Canada require a post-secondary education. Half of students in their 20s live at home with their parents, including 73 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 and nearly a third of 25- to 29-year-olds. On average, a four-year degree for a student living at home in Canada costs $55,000, and those costs are expected to increase in coming years at a rate faster than inflation. It has been estimated that in 18 years, a four-year degree for Canadian students will cost $102,000. Defaults on government student loans are at roughly 14%. The Chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students warned in June of 2011 that, “We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” This immense student debt affects every decision made in the lives of young graduates. With few jobs, enormous housing costs, the cutting of future benefits and social security, students are entering an economy which holds very little for them in opportunities. Women, minorities, and other marginalized groups are in an even more disadvantaged position. Canadian students are increasingly moving back home and relying more and more upon their parents for support. An informal Globe and Mail poll in early May of 2012 (surveying 2,200 students), “shows that students across Canada share a similar anxiety over rising tuition fees” as that felt in Quebec. Roughly 62% of post-secondary students said they would join a similar strike in their own province, while 32% said they would not, and 5.9% were undecided. In Ontario, where tuition is the highest in Canada, 69% said they would support a strike against increasing tuition. A Quebec research institution released a report in late March of 2012 indicating that increasing the cost of tuition for students is creating a “student debt bubble” akin to the housing bubble in the United States, and with interest rates set to increase, “today’s students may well find themselves in the same situation of not being able to pay off their student loans.” The authors of the report from the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique explained that, “Since governments underwrite those loans, if students default it could be catastrophic for public finances,” and that, “If the bubble explodes, it could be just like the mortgage crisis.” In the United States, the situation is even worse. In March of 2012, the Federal Reserve reported that 27 percent of student borrowers whose loans have gone into repayment are now delinquent on their debt.” Student debt in the United States has reached $1 trillion, “passing total credit card debt along the way.” It has become a threat to the entire existence of the middle class in America. Bankruptcy lawyers in the US are “seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble.” A recent survey from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) indicated, “more than 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years.” The head of the NACBA stated, “This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy.” In 1993, 45% of students who earn a bachelor’s degree had to go into debt; today, it is 94%. The average student debt in the United States in 2011 was $23,300, with 10% owning more than $54,000 and 3% owing more than $100,000. President Obama has addressed the situation by simply providing more loans to students. A recent survey of graduates revealed that 40% of them “had delayed making a major purchase, like a home or car, because of college debt, while slightly more than a quarter had put off continuing their education or had moved in with relatives to save money,” and 50% of those surveyed had full-time jobs. Between 2001 and 2011, “state and local financing per student declined by 24 percent nationally.” In the same period of time, “tuition and fees at state schools increased 72 percent.” It would appear that whether in the United States, Canada, or even beyond, the decisions made by schools, banks, and the government, are geared toward increasing the financial burden on students and families, and increasing profits for themselves. The effect will be to plunge the student and youth population into poverty over the coming years. Thus, the student movement in Quebec, instead of being portrayed as “entitled brats” elsewhere, are actually setting an example for students and youth across the continent and beyond. Since Quebec tuition is the lowest on the continent, it gives all the more reason that other students should follow Quebec’s example, instead of Quebec students being told to follow the rest of the country (and continent) into debt bondage.
3) The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims: The decision to strike was made through student associations and organizations that uniquely operate through direct-democracy. While most student associations at schools across Canada hold elections where students choose the members of the associations, the democratic accountability ends there (just like with government). Among the Francophone schools in Quebec, the leaders are not only elected by the students, but decisions are made through general assemblies, debate and discussion, and through the votes of the actual constituents, the members of the student associations, not just the leaders. This means that the student associations that voted to strike are more democratically accountable and participatory than most other student associations, and certainly the government. It represents a more profound and meaningful working definition of democracy that is lacking across the rest of the country. The Anglophone student associations that went on strike – from Concordia and McGill – did so because, for the first time ever, they began to operate through direct-democracy. This of course, has resulted in insults and derision from the media. The national media in Canada – most especially the National Post – complain that the student “tactics are anything but democratic,” and that the students aren’t acting in a democratic way, but that “it’s really mob rule.” Obviously, it is naïve to assume that the National Post has any sort of understanding of democracy.
4) This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon: I am an Anglophone, I don’t even speak French, I have only lived in Montreal for under two years, but the strikers are struggling as much for me as for any other student, Francophone or Anglophone. Typically, when others across Canada see what is taking place here, they frame it along the lines of, “Oh those Quebecois, always yelling about something.” But I’m yelling too… in English. Many people here are yelling… in English. It is true that the majority of the students protesting are Francophone, and the majority of the schools on strike are Francophone, but it is not exclusionary. In fact, the participation in the strike from the Anglophone schools (while a minority within the schools) is unprecedented in Quebec history. This was undertaken because students began mobilizing at the grassroots and emulating the French student groups in how they make decisions (i.e., through direct-democracy). The participation of Anglophone students in the open-ended strike is unprecedented in Quebec history.
5) Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students: With all the focus on student violence at protests, breaking bank windows, throwing rocks at riot police, and other acts of vandalism, student leaders have never called for violence against the government or vandalism against property, and have, in fact, denounced it and spoken out for calm, stating: “The student movement wants to fight alongside the populace and not against it.” On the other hand, it has been government officials and the national media which have been openly calling for violence to be used against students. On May 11, Michael Den Tandt, writing for the National Post, stated that, “It’s time for tough treatment of Quebec student strikers,” and recommended to Quebec Premier Jean Charest that, “He must bring down the hammer.” Tandt claimed that there was “a better way” to deal with student protesters: “Dispersal with massive use of tear gas; then arrest, public humiliation, and some pain.” He even went on to suggest that, “caning is more merciful than incarceration,” or perhaps even re-imagining the medieval punishment in which “miscreants and ne’er-do-wells were placed in the stockade, in the public square, and pelted with rotten cabbages. That might not be a bad idea, either.” This, Tandt claimed, would be the only way to preserve “peace, order, and good government.” Kelly McParland, writing the for National Post on May 11, suggested that it was now time for Charest to “empower the police to use the full extent of the law against those who condone or pursue further disruption,” and that the government must make a “show of strength” against the students. If this was not bad enough, get ready for this: A member of the Quebec Liberal Party, head of the tax office in the Municipal Affairs Department, Bernard Guay, wrote an article for a French-language newspaper in Quebec in mid-April advocating a strategy to “end the student strikes.” In the article, the government official recommended using the fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s as an example in how to deal with “leftists” in giving them “their own medicine.” He suggested organizing a political “cabal” to handle the “wasteful and anti-social” situation, which would mobilize students to not only cross picket lines, but to confront and assault students who wear the little red square (the symbol of the student strike). This, Guay suggested, would help society “overcome the tyranny of Leftist agitators,” no doubt by emulating fascist tyranny. The article was eventually pulled and an apology was issued, while a government superior supposedly reprimanded Guay, though the government refused to elaborate on what that consisted of. Just contemplate this for a moment: A Quebec Liberal government official recommended using “inspiration” from fascist movements to attack the striking students. Imagine if one of the student associations had openly called for violence, let alone for the emulation of fascism. It would be national news, and likely lead to arrests and charges. But since it was a government official, barely a peep was heard.
6) Excessive state violence has been used against the students: Throughout the three months of protests from students in Quebec, the violence has almost exclusively been blamed on the students. Images of protesters throwing rocks and breaking bank windows inundate the media and ‘inform’ the discourse, demonizing the students as violent, vandals, and destructive. Meanwhile, the reality of state violence being used against the students far exceeds any of the violent reactions from protesters, but receives far less coverage. Riot police meet students with pepper spray, tear gas, concussion grenades, smoke bombs, beating them with batons, shoot them with rubber bullets, and have even been driving police cars and trucks into groups of students. On May 4, on the 42nd anniversary of the Kent State massacre in which the U.S. National Guard murdered four protesting students, Quebec almost experienced its own Kent State, when several students were critically injured by police, shot with rubber bullets in the face. One student lost an eye, and another remains in the hospital with serious head injuries, including a skull fracture and brain contusion. The Quebec provincial police – the SQ – have not only been involved in violent repression of student protests in Quebec, but have also (along with the RCMP) been involved in training foreign police forces how to violently repress their own populations, such as in Haiti. Roughly 12,000 people in Quebec have signed a petition against the police reaction to student protests, stipulating that the police actions have been far too violent. In late April, even before the Quebec police almost killed a couple students, Amnesty International “asked the government to call for a toning down of police measures that… are unduly aggressive and might potentially smother students’ right to free expression.” The Quebec government, of course, defends police violence against students and youths. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Canada’s spy agency – has recently announced its interest in “gathering intelligence” on Quebec student protesters and related groups as “possible threats to national security.” Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismantled the government agency responsible for oversight of CSIS, making the agency essentially unaccountable. In reaction to student protests, the City of Montreal is considering banning masks being worn at protests in a new bylaw which is being voted on without public consultation. Thus, apparently it is fine for police to wear gas masks as they shoot chemical agents at Quebec’s youth, but students cannot attempt to even meagerly protect themselves by covering their faces. The federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper is attempting to pass a law that bans masks at protests, which includes a ten-year sentence for “rioters who wear masks.” Quebec has even established a secretive police unit called the GAMMA squad to monitor political groups in the province, which has already targeted and arrested members of the leading student organization behind the strike. The police unit is designed to monitor “anarchists” and “marginal political groups.” Some political groups have acknowledged this as “a declaration of war” by the government against such groups. Spokesperson for the largest student group, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, stated that, “This squad is really a new kind of political police to fight against social movements.” The situation of police repression has become so prevalent that even the U.S. State Department has warned Americans to stay away from student protests in the city, “as bystanders can quickly be caught up in unforeseen violence and in some cases, detained by the local police.”
7) The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students: The government claims that it must increase the cost of tuition in order to balance the budget and to increase the “competitiveness” of schools. The government has ignored, belittled, undermined, attempted to divide, and outright oppress the student movement. The Liberal Government of Quebec, in short, has declared organized students to be enemies of the state. Meanwhile, that same government has no problem of working with and supporting organized crime, namely, the Montreal Mafia. In 2010, Quebec, under Premier Jean Charest, was declared to be “the most corrupt province” in Canada. A former opposition leader in the Montreal city hall reported that, “the Italian mafia controls about 80 per cent of city hall.” The mafia is a “big player” in the Quebec economy, and “is deeply entrenched in city affairs” of Montreal, as “more than 600 businesses pay Mafia protection money in Montreal alone, handing organized crime leaders an unprecedented degree of control of Quebec’s economy.” The construction industry, especially, is heavily linked to the mafia. The Montreal Mafia is as influential as their Sicilian counterparts, where “all of the major infrastructure work in Sicily is under Mafia control.” In 2009, a government official stated that, “It’s Montreal’s Italian Mafia that controls what is going on in road construction. They control, from what we can tell, 80 per cent of the contracts.” In the fall of 2011, an internal report written by the former Montreal police chief for the government was leaked, stating, “We have discovered a firmly rooted, clandestine universe on an unexpected scale, harmful to our society on the level of safety and economics and of justice and democracy.” The report added, “Suspicions are persistent that an evil empire is taking form in the highway construction domain,” and that, “If there were to be an intensification of influence-peddling in the political sphere, we would no longer simply be talking about marginal, or even parallel criminal activities: we could suspect an infiltration or even a takeover of certain functions of the state.” Quebec Premier Jean Charest, for several years, rejected calls for a public inquiry into corruption in the construction industry, even as the head of Quebec’s anti-collusion squad called for such an inquiry. An opposition party in Quebec stated that Jean Charest “is protecting the (Quebec) Liberal party – and in protecting the Liberal party, Mr. Charest is protecting the Mafia, organized crime.” After the leaked report revealed “cost overruns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, kickbacks and illegal donations to political parties,” Charest had to – after two years of refusing – open a public inquiry into corruption. The Quebec mafia have not only “run gambling and prostitution and imported stupefying amounts of illegal drugs into Canada, but they have extended their influence to elected civic and provincial governments, and to Liberal and Conservative federal governments through bribery and other ‘illustrious relations’.” The Federal Conservative Party of Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as its leader, received dozens of donations from Mafia-connected construction and engineering firm employees. The Mafia-industry has also donated to the Federal Liberal Party, but less so than the Conservatives, who hold power. In Quebec, government officials have helped the Mafia charge far more for public-works contracts than they were worth. These Mafia companies would then use a lot of that extra money to fund political parties, most notably, the Liberals, who have been in power for nine years. A former Montreal police officer who worked in the intelligence unit with access to the police’s confidential list of informants was suspected of selling information to the mafia. In January of 2012, he was found dead, reportedly of a suicide. In April of 2012, fifteen arrests were made in Montreal by the police in relation to corruption charges linked to the Mafia. Among them were one of the biggest names in the construction industry, with 14 individual facing conspiracy charges “involving municipal contracts associated with the Mascouche water-treatment plants [that] are connected to big construction, engineering and law firms that have been involved in municipal contracts and politics across the Montreal region for decades. And the individuals have been around the municipal world for years.” One Quebec mayor has even been charged. The Montreal police force has “not been very interested, and it should be,” in helping the anti-corruption investigation. Two of those who were arrested included Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers, one of whom Charest personally delivered an award to in 2010 for his “years of service as an organizer.” All three of Quebec’s main political parties were connected to individuals arrested in the raids. Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, have refused to cooperate with the Mafia-corruption inquiry in handing over their massive amounts of information to the judge leading the inquiry. Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who has been leading the government assault against the students, attended a political fundraiser for herself which was attended by a notorious Mafia figure who personally “donated generously to the minister’s Liberal riding association.” As these revelations emerged, Beauchamp stated, “I don’t know the individual in question and even today I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.” At the time, Beauchamp was the Environment Minister, and was responsible for granting the Mafia figure’s company a favourable certificate to expand its business. Beauchamp claimed she did not know about the deal, but as head of the Ministry which handled it, either she is utterly incompetent or a liar. Either way, she is clearly not fit for “public service” if it amounts to nothing more than “service to the Mafia.” The fact that she is now responsible for increasing tuition and leading the attack on students speaks volumes. Line Beauchamp, when questioned about taking political contributions from the Mafia, stated, “Now that the information is public and the links well established, I would not put myself in that position again.” Well isn’t that reassuring? Now that it’s public, she wouldn’t do it again. That’s sort of like saying, “I wouldn’t have committed the crime if I knew I was going to be caught.” The notion that Beauchamp didn’t know whom this Mafia figure was who was giving her money is absurd. It’s even more absurd when you note that one of Beauchamp’s political attaches was a 30-year veteran of the Montreal police force. As one Quebec political figure commented about the Liberal Government’s Mafia links: “They refuse to sit down with a student leader but they have breakfast with a mafioso … where is the logic in that?” Indeed. It’s clear that the Quebec government has no problem working with, handing out contracts to, and taking money from the Mafia and organized crime. In fact, they are so integrated that the government itself is a form of organized crime. But for that government, and for the media boot-lickers who follow the government line, organized students are the true threat to Quebec. National newspapers declare Quebec students following “mob rule” when it’s actually the government that is closely connected to “mob rule.” The students are challenging and being repressed by a Mafioso-government alliance of industrialists, politicians, financiers and police… yet it is the students who are blamed for everything. The government gives the Mafia public contracts double or triple their actual value, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars (if not more), while students are being asked to pay nearly double their current tuition. There’s money for the mob, but scraps for the students.
8) Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students: It’s not simply the government of Quebec which has set itself against the students, sought to increase their tuition and repress their resistance, often with violent means, but a wide sector of elite society in Quebec and Canada propose tuition increases and blind faith to the state in managing its repression of a growing social movement. As such, the student movement should recognize that not simply are Jean Charest and his Liberal-Mafia government the antagonists of social justice, but the whole elite society itself. As early as 2007, TD Bank, one of Canada’s big five banks, outlined a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, and directly recommended Quebec to raise tuition costs for students. Naturally, the Quebec government is more likely to listen to a bank than the youth of the province. Banks of course, have an interest in increasing tuition costs for students, as they provide student loans and lines of credit which they charge interest on and make profits. The Royal Bank of Canada acknowledged that student lines of credit are “very popular products.” Elites of all sorts support the tuition increases. In February of 2010, a group of “prominent” (i.e., elitist) Quebecers signed a letter proposing to increase Quebec’s tuition costs. Among the signatories were the former Premier of Quebec for the Parti Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard. In early May, a letter was published in the Montreal Gazette which stated that students need to pay more for their education in Quebec, signed by the same elitists who proposed the tuition increase back in February of 2010. Initially, this group of elitists had proposed an increase of $1,000 every year for three years. The letter then calls for the application of state power to be employed against the student movement: “It is time that we react. We must reinstate order; the students have to return to class… This is a situation when, regardless of political allegiances, the population must support the state, which is ultimately responsible for public order, the safety of individuals and the integrity of our institutions.” The “integrity” of institutions which cooperate with the Mafia, I might add. What incredible integrity! The letter was signed by Lucien Bouchard, former Premier of Quebec; Michel Audet, an economist and former Finance Minister in the first Charest government in Quebec; Françoise Bertrand, the President and chief executive officer of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (The Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce), where she sits alongside the presidents and executives of major Canadian corporations, banks, and business interests. She also sits on the board of directors of Quebecor Inc., a major media conglomerate, with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on its board. Another signatory was Yves-Thomas Dorval, President of the Quebec Employers’ Council, who formerly worked for British American Tobacco Group, former Vice President at Edelman Canada, an international public relations firm, was a director at a pharmaceutical corporation, head of strategic planning at an insurance company, and previously worked for the Government of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec. Joseph Facal, another signatory to the letter demanding higher tuition and state repression of students, is former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, and was a cabinet minister in the Quebec government of Lucien Bouchard. Other signatories include Pierre Fortin, a professor emeritus at the Université du Québec à Montréal; Michel Gervais, the former rector of Université Laval; Monique Jérôme-Forget, former finance minister of Quebec and former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, member of the Quebec Liberal Party between 1998 and 2009, was responsible for introducing public-private partnerships in Quebec’s infrastructure development (which saw enormous cooperation with the Mafia), and is on the board of directors of Astral Media. Robert Lacroix, another co-signer, was former rector of the Université de Montréal is also a fellow at CIRANO, a Montreal-based think tank which is governed by a collection of university heads, business executives, and bankers, including representatives from Power Corporation (owned by the Desmarais family). Another signatory is Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, a prominent business organization in Montreal, of which the board of directors includes a number of corporate executives, mining company representatives, university board members, bankers and Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family. Another signatory is Claude Montmarquette, professor emeritus at the Université de Montréal, who is also a member of the elitist CIRANO think tank, which as a “research institution” (for elites) has recommended increasing Quebec’s tuition costs for several years. Another signatory was Marcel Boyer, a Bell Canada Professor of industrial economics at the Université de Montréal, Vice-president and chief economist at the Montreal Economic Institute, is the C.D. Howe Scholar in Economic Policy at the C.D. Howe Institute, Member of the Board of the Agency for Public-Private Partnerships of Québec, and Visiting Senior Research Advisor for industrial economics at Industry Canada. At the Montreal Economic Institute, Boyer sits alongside notable elitists, bankers, and corporate executives, including Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family (the most powerful family in Canada). At the C.D. Howe Institute, Boyer works for even more elitists, as the board of directors is made up of some of Canada’s top bankers, corporate executives, and again includes Hélène Desmarais. The Desmarais family, who own Power Corporation and its many subsidiaries, as well as a number of foreign corporations in Europe and China, are Canada’s most powerful family. The patriarch, Paul Desmarais Sr., has had extremely close business and even family ties to every Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, and all Quebec premiers (save two) in the past several decades. The Desmarais’ have strong links to the Parti Quebecois, the Liberals, Conservatives, and even the NDP, and socialize with presidents and prime ministers around the world, as well as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, and even Spanish royalty. Paul Desmarais Sr. has “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada,” and he especially “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest.” When former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Desmarais the French Legion of Honour, Desmarais brought Jean Charest with him. Quebec author Robin Philpot commented that Desmarais “took him along like a poodle,” referring to Charest. The Desmarais family has extensive ties to Canadian and especially Quebec politicians, have extensive interests in Canadian and international corporations and banks, are closely tied to major national and international think tanks (including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group), and even host an annual international think tank conference in Montreal, the Conference of Montreal. The Desmarais family have had very close ties to Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and even Stephen Harper, and to Quebec premiers, including Lucien Bouchard, who co-authored the article in the Gazette advocating increased tuition. The Desmarais empire also includes ownership of seven of the ten French newspapers in Quebec, including La Presse. The Desmarais family stand atop a parasitic Canadian oligarchy, which has bankers and corporate executives controlling the entire economy, political parties, the media, think tanks which set policy, and even our educational institutions, with the chancellors of both Concordia and McGill universities serving on the boards of the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada, respectively, as well as both schools having extensive leadership ties to Power Corporation and the Desmarais family. It is this very oligarchy which demands the people pay more, go further into debt, suffer and descend into poverty, while they make record profits. In March of 2012, Power Corporation reported fourth quarter profits of $314 million, with yearly earnings at over $1.1 billion. Canada’s banks last year made record profits, and then decided to increase bank fees. At the end of April, it was reported that Canada’s banks had received a “secret bailout” back in 2008/09, from both the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve, amounting to roughly $114 billion, or $3,400 for every Canadian man, woman, and child (more than the cost of yearly tuition in Quebec). And yet Quebec youth are told we suffer from “entitlement.” And now banks are expected to be making even more profits, as reported in early May. As banks make more record profits, Canadians are going deeper into debt. The big Canadian banks, along with the federal government, have colluded to create a massive housing bubble in Canada, most especially in Toronto and Vancouver, and with average Canadian household debt at $103,000, most of which is held in mortgages, and with the Bank of Canada announcing its intent to raise interest rates, Canada is set for a housing crisis like that seen in the United States in 2008, forcing the people to suffer while the banks make a profit. The head of the Bank of Canada (a former Goldman Sachs executive) said that Canadian household debt is the biggest threat to the Canadian economy, but don’t worry, Canada’s Finance Minister said he is working in close cooperation with the big banks to intervene in the housing market if necessary, which would likely mean another bailout for the big banks, and of course, hand the check to you! So, Canada has its priorities: every single Canadian man, woman, and child owes $3,400 for a secret bank bailout to banks that are now making record profits and increasing their fees, while simultaneously explaining that there is no money for education, so we will have to pay more for that, too, which is something those same banks demand our governments do to us. When the students stand up, they are said to be “brats” and whining about “entitlements.” But then, what does that make the banks? This is why I argue that Canada’s elites are parasitic in their very nature, slowly draining the host (that’s us!) of its life until there is nothing left the extract.
9) The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students: In the vast majority of coverage on the student strike and protests in Quebec, the media and its many talking heads have undertaken a major propaganda campaign against the students. The students have been consistently ignored, dismissed, derided, insulted and attacked. One Canadian newspaper said it was “hard to feel sorry” for Quebec students, who were “whining and crying” and “kicking up a fuss,” treating Canada’s young generation like ungrateful children throwing a collective tantrum. In almost every article about the student strike, the main point brought up to dismiss the students is that Quebec has the lowest tuition costs in North America. The National Post published a column written by a third-year political science student at McGill University in Montreal stating that, “Quebec students must pay their share,” and advised people to “ignore the overheated rhetoric from student strikers,” and that, “Jean Charest must go full steam ahead.” The student author, Brendan Steven, is co-founder of McGill’s Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC), which is an organizing mobilizing McGill students in opposition to the strike. Steven’s organization attacked striking student associations as “illegitimate, unconstitutional shams” and attacked the democratic functioning of other student associations holding general assemblies. Steven complained that the democratic general assemblies “are being invented on a whim.” Brendan Steven not only gets to write columns for the National Post, but gets interviewed on CBC. Steven’s anti-strike group sent a letter to the McGill administration complaining about pro-strike students on the campus, writing, “This group violates our democratic right to access an education without fear of harm,” and added: “We are demanding the McGill administration take action against this minority group before the current conflicts escalate into disasters. They have proven they will not remain peaceful.” As a lap-dog boot-licking power worshipper, Brendan Steven has a future for himself in politics, that’s for sure! Back in January, Steven wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he explained that the reason why CEOs get paid so much is because “they’re worth it.” He referred to Milton Friedman – the father of neoliberalism – as a “great economic thinker.” Back in November of 2011, Steven wrote an article for the McGill Daily entitled, “Do not demonize authorities,” and then went on to justify police violence against protesting students engaged in an occupation of a school building, which he characterized as “an inherently hostile act.” Steven later got an opportunity to appear on CBC’s The Current. Margaret Wente, writing for the Globe and Mail, wrote that, “It’s a little hard for the rest of us to muster sympathy for Quebec’s downtrodden students, who pay the lowest tuition fees in all of North America.” She then referred to the striking students as “the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it.” Wente then attempted to explain the Quebec students by writing: “Now I get it: The kids are on another planet.” Interesting how she used the word “kids” to just add a little extra condescension. But it seems clear that Wente “gets” very little. In an August 2011 column, Wente tried to explain why poor black communities in Britain and America were experiencing riots and gang activity, placing blame on “single-mothers” and “family breakdown,” and explained that, “Rootless, unmoored young men with no stake in society are a major threat to social order.” Explaining this demographic in economic terms, Wente wrote: “They are, quite simply, surplus to requirements.” In another column, Wente argued that helping deliver much-needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza would “enable terrorists.” Wente also wrote an article entitled, “The poor are doing better than you think,” suggesting that it’s not so bad for poor people because they have air conditioning, DVD players, and cable TV. Wente has been consistently critical of the Occupy movement, and suggested in another article that, “the biggest economic challenge we face today is not income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth among the top 1 per cent. It’s the increasing failure of young men with high-school degrees or less to latch on to the world of work.” Of course, in Wente’s world, the inability of young men to get a job has nothing to do with income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth. In another article criticizing the Occupy movement, Wente managed to argue that it was not Wall Street and bankers that have destroyed the economy and left people without jobs, but rather what she refers to as the “virtueocracy,” blaming unions, single mothers who gets masters degrees in social sciences, and people who want to work at NGOs and non-profits, doing “transformational, world-saving work.” So it’s Wente’s “insightful” voice which is “informing” Canadians about the student movement in Quebec. Other Canadian publications writing about the Quebec student strike have headlines like, “Reality check for the entitled,” repeating the idiotic argument that because Quebec students pay less than the rest of Canada, they shouldn’t be “complaining” about the hikes. Andrew Coyne wrote a syndicated column in which he claimed that, “Quebec students know violence works,” framing the protest at which police almost killed two students as an action “of general rage the students had promised.” With no mention of the student who lost an eye, or the other student who ended up in the hospital with critical head injuries, Coyne talked about a cop who “was beaten savagely” and “lay helpless on the ground.” No mention, of course, of the police truck that drove into a group of students moments later, or the fact that the cop who was “beaten savagely” got away with minor injuries, unlike the students who were shot in the face with rubber bullets. By simply omitting police brutality and violence, Coyne presented the student movement as itself inherently violent, instead of at times erupting in violent reactions to state violence, which is far more extreme in every case. The Toronto Sun even had an article which claimed that the students have employed tactics of “thuggery” and “violent criminal behaviour.” Publications regularly ask their readers if Quebec students have “legitimate” grievances, if they are fighting for “social justice,” or if they are just “spoiled brats.” A syndicated column from the Vancouver Sun by Licia Corbella was titled, “How rioting students help make me grateful.” She discussed her latest visit to church where the pastor advised: “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them,” and mentioned how parents anger their children by “belittling them, underestimating them and not treating them as individuals.” Corbella then took particular note of how parents provoke and enrage children “when we give them a sense of entitlement.” With the word “entitlement,” Corbella naturally then began thinking about Quebec students, as according to Corbella’s pastor, “entitlement leads to rage.” Corbella wrote that rioting “is, in essence, what a spoiled two-year-old would do if they had the ability.” She further wrote: “In Quebec, these entitled youth, who believe the rest of society MUST provide them with an almost free education or else, have blocked other students from accessing the educations they paid for, burned vehicles, smashed shop windows, looted property and severely beaten up a police officer who got separated from the rest of his colleagues.” Again, no mention of the two students who were almost killed by police at the same event. Corbella quoted someone interviewed on TV, endorsing the claim that the student protests are “starting to resemble terrorism,” though she took issue with the word “starting.” This is the result of creating, according to Corbell, “an entitlement society.” Apparently, the pastor’s lesson about not “belittling” the young did not sink in with Corbella. An article in the Chronicle Herald asked, “What planet are these kids on?” The author then wrote that, “the irony is that these students now want the system to accommodate their desires and for someone else to pay the bill,” and that, “students should stop making foolish demands.” Other articles claim that students “need a lesson in economics.” After all, the fact that the majority of economists, fully armed with “lessons in economics,” were unable to predict the massive global economic crisis in 2008, should obviously not lead to any questioning of the ideology of modern economic theory. No, it would be better for students to learn about the ocean from those who couldn’t see a tsunami as it approached the beach. Another article, written by a former speechwriter to the Prime Minister of Canada, wrote that the student arguments were vacuous and that the youth were in a “state of complete denial.” Rex Murphy, a commentator with the National Post and CBC, referred to the student strike as “short-sighted” and that student actions were “crude attempts at precipitating a crisis.” Student actions, he claimed, were the “actions of a mob” and were “simply wrong,” and thus, should be “condemned.” The CBC has been particularly terrible in their coverage of the student movement. With few exceptions, the Canadian media have established a consensus in opposition to the student protests, and use techniques of omission, distortion, or outright condemnation in order to promote a distinctly anti-student stance.
10) The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power: In the coverage and discourse about the student movement, very little context is given in placing this student movement in a wider global context. The British newspaper, The Guardian, acknowledged this context, commenting on the red squares worn by striking students (a symbol of going squarely into the red, into debt), explaining that they have “become a symbol of the most powerful challenge to neoliberalism on the continent.” The article also adopted the term promoted by the student movement itself to describe the wider social context of the protests, calling it the “Maple Spring.” The author placed the fight against tuition increases in the context of a struggle against austerity measures worldwide, writing: “Forcing students to pay more for education is part of a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich – as with privatization and the state’s withdrawal from service-provision, tax breaks for corporations and deep cuts to social programs.” The article noted how the student movement has linked up with civic groups against a Quebec government plan to subsidize mining companies in exploiting the natural resources of Northern Quebec (Plan Nord), taking land from indigenous peoples to give to multibillion dollar corporations. As one of the student leaders stated, the protest was about more than tuition and was aimed at the elite class itself, “Those people are a single elite, a greedy elite, a corrupt elite, a vulgar elite, an elite that only sees education as an investment in human capital, that only sees a tree as a piece of paper and only sees a child as a future employee.” The student strike has thus become a social movement. The protests aim at economic disruption through civil disobedience, and have garnered the support of thousands of protesters, and 200,000 protesters on March 22, and close to 300,000 on April 22. Protests have blocked entrances to banks, disrupted a conference for the Plan Nord exploitation, linking the movement with indigenous and environmental groups. It was only when the movement began to align with other social movements and issues that the government even accepted the possibility of speaking to students. Unions have also increasingly been supporting the student strike, including with large financial contributions. Though, the large union support for the student movement was also involved in attempted co-optation and undermining of the students. At the negotiations between the government and the students, the union leaders convinced the student leaders to accept the deal, which met none of the student demands and kept the tuition increases intact. There was a risk that the major unions were essentially aiming to undermine the student movement. But the student groups, which had to submit the agreement to democratic votes, rejected the horrible government offer. Thus the Maple Spring continues. Quebec is not the only location with student protests taking place. In Chile, a massive student movement has emerged and developed over the past year, changing the politics of the country and challenging the elites and the society they have built for their own benefit. One of the leaders of the Chilean student movement is a 23-year old young woman, Camila Vallejo, who has attained celebrity status. In Quebec’s student movement, the most visible and vocal leader is 21-year old Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who has also achieved something of celebrity status within the province. Just as in Quebec, student protests in Chile are met with state violence, though in the Latin American country, the apparatus of state violence is the remnants of a U.S.-supported military dictatorship. Still, this does not stop tens of thousands of students going out into the streets in Santiago, as recently as late April. Protests by students have also been emerging elsewhere, often in cooperation and solidarity with the Occupy movement and other anti-austerity protests. Silent protests are emerging at American universities where students are protesting their massive debts. California students have been increasingly protesting increased tuition costs. Student protests at UC Berkeley ended with 12 citations for trespassing. Some students in California have even begun a hunger strike against tuition increases. In Brooklyn, New York, students protesting against tuition increases, many of them wearing the Quebec “red square” symbol, were assaulted by police officers. Even high school students in New York have been protesting. Israeli social activists are back on the streets protesting against austerity measures. An Occupy group has resumed protests in London. The Spanish indignado movement, which began in May of 2011, saw a resurgence on the one year anniversary, with another round of anti-austerity protests in Spain, bringing tens of thousands of protesters, mostly youths, out into the streets of Madrid, and more than 100,000 across the country. Their protest was met with police repression. Increasingly, students, the Occupy movement, and other social groups are uniting in protests against the costs of higher education and the debts of students. This is indeed the context in which the ‘Maple Spring’ – the Quebec student movement – should be placed, as part of a much broader global anti-austerity movement.
So march on, students. Show Quebec, Canada, and the world what it takes to oppose parasitic elites, mafia-connected politicians, billionaire bankers, and seek to change a social, political, and economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
Solidarity, brothers and sisters!
For a comprehensive analysis of the Quebec student strike, see: “The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?”
For up to date news and information of student movements around the world, join this Facebook page: We Are the Youth Revolution.
Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals: Class War and the College Crisis, Part 3
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Intellectual history is written by intellectuals and educational history is written by educators; thus, it would be inevitable that the flaws and failures of each are buried beneath, while the advances and accomplishments are exaggerated or over-estimated. There is, however, a seemingly consistent dichotomy which has evolved and persisted throughout intellectual and educational history: on the one hand, you have the much larger element – both in terms of the general purpose of education and in the general activities and ideas of intellectuals – who support and strengthen institutionalized power structures; on the other hand – much more a break from the ‘traditional’ impetus and activities of education and intellectuals – you have the smaller element, the off-shoots and oddities, which empowers the masses against institutionalized power, and with the intellectuals who speak out, articulate, mobilize, and justify the empowering of the people against that of the dominant structures of society. Therein lies the dichotomy: one form of education is for social control and domination, the other is for social uplift and rejuvenation; one type of intellectual is a programmatic priest for the proselytization of power, the other is an energetic and empowering enemy of entrenched elites.
A Eulogy for Education: Situating the Social Sciences as Structures of Social Control
Whether public or private, the key issue at hand is that of the utility – or purpose – of higher education. Conventional wisdom inflates the classical liberal concept of higher education as a social good, one which may be funded by the state in order to promote the general well-being of society, as inherently cultural institutions designed to raise the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and philosophical standards of society. A more critical history of education tends to downplay the “social good” theory in place of a “social control” theory of education, and specifically, of the social sciences. In this conception, education was designed to produce professional ‘technicians’ who would – using the techniques of science, rationality, and reason – study social problems with a desire to find and recommend specific policies and programs to ameliorate those problems – to promote reforms to the social system – in order to maintain “order.” Order, in this case, is understood as maintaining the social hierarchy. We understand “social order” as the security of the “social hierarchy” precisely because ‘disorder’ is understood as the opposite of this: a threat to the prevailing social hierarchy and institutional structure of society. Order is maintained through manufacturing ideologies, implementing policies, and undertaking programs of social engineering all with a desire to establish ‘social control.’
For this to be undertaken, it was essential for the social sciences to be separated into distinct spheres: Sociology, Political Science, Economics, and Psychology, for example. This superficial separation established each discipline as one for “expertise” and “professionalism,” whereby those who were trained to understand and partake in politics would study political science, achieving degrees in their “specialty” which would make them socially acknowledged “experts” in their fields. Academic journals reinforce these divisions, focusing primarily on a particular and specific discipline, providing a forum for academics and intellectuals to discuss, debate, and disseminate ideas related to the study and understanding of that discipline and its related topics. The effect, however, is that each discipline remained isolated from other forms of knowledge and, more importantly, that knowledge remained isolated from the general public, whom it was supposed to inform and empower (in theory).
Logic, of course, will tell you that in the real world, politics, economics, sociology and psychology all interact and become intertwined, intersected and interdependent. To add to that, of course, we have other technological, scientific, spiritual, cultural, environmental and historic factors that all merge to create what we broadly call “society.” If our aim is, as it should be, to understand society – to identify its problems and work to resolve them – we therefore would logically need a broader understanding of the social world, which would necessarily require a far more comprehensive, expansive, and multi-disciplinary historical examination of our world and its interacting forms of knowledge. It can be argued, however, that this is too demanding upon the academic and thus, unreasonable and unlikely. Therefore, it is argued, producing “experts” in specific areas would allow for a simultaneous understanding of these various spheres of society, and to effect change in each sector independent of one another. This raises an important question: is an “expert” in Political Science capable of understanding the political world? If they do not take into account economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological and other historical facets of the social world which all interact with the political realm, how can they logically understand the political realm outside of those interactions? In short, the political world does not operate within a vacuum and outside of interactions with other social phenomena, so the claim that they are “professionals” on understanding the social world as a whole, let alone “experts” in the political world, is dubious at best.The fallacy of this concept to produce useful knowledge was eventually acknowledged and educational managers (such as the major foundations) began to support ‘inter-disciplinary’ research to promote at least a more comprehensive understanding than previously existed.
Despite this inherently elitist self-serving conception of social control, the focus – purpose and utility – of education (and specifically the social sciences) on the study and amelioration of social problems inevitably gave rise to ideas, actors, and movements which saw beyond the rigid confines of the educational and knowledge-production system itself, reaching beyond the disciplines and into a more historically-based understanding. These broader understandings typically emerged from historians and philosophers, who must – as stipulated by their very disciplinary focus – acknowledge a multiplicity of factors, spheres, ideas, actors and areas of relevance to any given time and place of human social reality. History, by its very nature, is interdisciplinary: the historian must always acknowledge economic, social, political, and other cultural phenomena in each circumstance being studied.
As an example of these biases and disciplinary obscurities, let’s take a brief look at Political Science. In Political Science, when studying International Relations, you generally study two major theories of international politics: Liberalism, the idea that peace and prosperity between states grows as economic activity increases between them, and that of Realism/Mercantilism, whereby states are viewed as self-interested and the international arena as anarchic, and thus, nation states simply act to serve their own interests (and should). Both theories, of course, serve power. Unless studying the very specific focus of Global Political Economy (and specifically from a critical perspective), Political Science students are not exposed to or confronted with information or ideas which discuss the roles of financial and economic institutions and actors (banks, corporations, etc.) in determining foreign or public policy. Such perspectives are not studied, but simply assumed to be the product of “interested ideology” as opposed to “disinterested knowledge.” Critical theories are rarely acknowledged, let alone studied, and the general use of the word “ideology” is seen as negative, in that, it is not a legitimate focus for discussion or analysis. I personally know of a political science professor who taught a class on ‘Nationalism’ in which a student wrote an essay on ‘class.’ The professor informed the student that she couldn’t discuss “class” because it was “ideology,” and therefore, not disinterested knowledge. Of course, the fact that he was teaching a course on ‘nationalism,’ which itself, is an ideology, did not even come into consideration.
The difference in ideology then, is that the word is used to deride and dismiss theories and ideas which challenge, critique, or oppose power, hierarchy, and the status quo. Those ideas, theories, philosophies and perspectives which support power, hierarchy, and the status quo, are not presented as “ideology,” but as “disinterested knowledge,” as a fact, not in need of proof, but of an assumed nature. They are simply accepted, and are therefore, not ideology. This is also widely reflected in the differences of the academic journals, between those which are establishment and elitist, and those which are critical and allow for more dissent. An example is Foreign Affairs, the premier foreign policy journal, run by the Council on Foreign Relations, the most influential think tank in the United States. In this journal, the articles and essays, written by various “experts” and active, former, or prospective policy-makers and those who hold seats of power, contain largely little or no citations whatsoever. All the ‘facts’ and ideas stated within the articles do not need citations or references because they are ideas which support the status quo, and therefore, they simply reflect the ‘perceived’ realities of society. Now take a journal like Third World Quarterly, which tends to focus on the effects of foreign policy upon the ‘Third World’ nations of the Global South, often highly critical, allowing for major dissenting scholars to have an outlet for their research and ideas. These journal articles are typically and necessarily flooded with citations, sources and references. This is because ideas and facts which challenge the prevailing perception of social reality – the status quo – are treated far more critically and scrutinized to a significant degree.
Critical scholars put their entire reputation and career on the line in taking on controversial topics, and thus, they must provide extensive evidence and citations for all their assertions. Thus, a scholar who contends that – “the United States is an imperial nation which undermines democracy and the self-determination of people around the world” – must provide extensive, detailed, elaborate and concise references and citations. Even then, the scholar is likely to be either ignored or attacked with rhetoric proclaiming them to be “ideologically biased” or worse. On the other hand, a scholar who contends that the United States is a democratic peace-loving nation which benevolently seeks to spread democracy and freedom around the world requires no supporting evidence, citations, or references, simply because it serves power, supports the status quo, and regurgitates the ideas emerging from the institutions of power themselves (such as the State and media), and therefore, no major institutions will challenge the assertions nor subject them to scrutiny. For example, there are entire books written criticizing Noam Chomsky and subjecting his research and writing to extensive scrutiny, pointing out miniscule mistakes in his citations, presenting them as deliberate methods of manipulation. On the other hand, prominent scholars who refer to America as a “benevolent empire” or as the “protector of democracy” around the world are rarely challenged, let alone scrutinized. If scrutiny occurs, it is from the critical scholars, writing in more critically-inclined journals, and thus, their research tends to be disseminated only to each other and stays confined within that small social group. On the other hand, scholars who support power are invited on television, quoted in newspapers, work with think tanks in formulating policy, take part in international conferences, and are invited into the corridors of power in order to implement policy.
Serving power obviously allows for a scholar to rise through the social hierarchy with relative ease. For those scholars who challenge power and the status quo, while entry into positions of power and influence are generally denied, there is still a necessity for toleration among the powerful. The major foundations (Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, etc.) often fund critical scholars and journals, not out of a desire to promote or support their ideas, but in order to keep critical scholars “professionalized,” to keep them as institutionalized academics. If there were no forums, journals, conferences or venues for the discussion, dissemination and debate of critical scholars and ideas, they would have to turn to other avenues for the dissemination of ideas and knowledge, which generally leads to the public sphere, of community involvement, activism, or populist politics. With foundations providing funding for critical scholars, journals, and conferences, the academics remain dependent upon the institutional structure of academia, and their ideas do not reach the wider public, and thus, their critiques are ineffective and do not promote change or understanding within the general population. Thus, such a program of financing provides a “release valve” for intellectual dissent, to keep critical or radical scholars institutionalized and prevent them from becoming mobilized and activist-oriented.
Still, in spite of all the deleterious factors for the pursuit of genuine knowledge with the purpose of empowerment through (instead of power over); the fact that the focus was on ‘social problems’ led inevitably to the generation of activist-oriented intellectuals, for those who could transcend the confines of narrow structures of knowledge. It is not to say that when these intellectuals surfaced, so too did the social movements, but rather that as social movements emerged, progressed, and developed, activist-oriented intellectuals took note, and began providing a philosophical and intellectual basis for the movement to exist and move forward. In short, it was a confluence of different circumstances both within the academic institutions and in the wider society – national and global – which led to the origins of these intellectual leaders, critics, activists, and philosophers. These are the individuals that the Trilateral Commission referred to in its report on the “Crisis of Democracy” as “value-oriented intellectuals.”
Dissident Value-Oriented Intellectuals versus Technocratic Policy-Oriented Intellectuals
In the early 20th century, as the concepts and ideas of “public opinion” and “mass democracy” emerged, the dominant political and social theorists of the era took to a debate on redefining democracy. It was an era of social unrest, radical political ideologies and activists, labour unrest and rebellion, extreme poverty, war, and middle-class insecurity (sound familiar?). Central to this discussion on redefining democracy were the books and ideas of Walter Lippmann. With the concept of the “scientific management” of society by social scientists standing firm in the background, society’s problems were viewed as “technical problems” (as in, not structural or institutional) intended to be resolved through rational professionals and experts. Just as with Frederick Taylor’s conception of “scientific management” of the factory, the application of this concept to society would require, in Lippmann’s words, “systematic intelligence and information control,” which would become “the normal accompaniment of action.” With such control, Lippmann asserted, “persuasion… become[s] a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government,” and the “manufacture of consent improve[s] enormously in technique, because it is now based on analysis rather than rule of thumb.” Thus, for elites to maintain social control in the tumultuous new age of the 20th century, they must “manufacture consent” of the people to support the existing power structures.
In 1922, Lippmann wrote his profoundly influential book, Public Opinion, in which he expressed his thoughts on the inability of citizens – or the public – to guide democracy or society for themselves. The “intellectuality of mankind,” Lippmann argued, was exaggerated and false. Instead, he defined the public as “an amalgam of stereotypes, prejudices and inferences, a creature of habits and associations, moved by impulses of fear and greed and imitation, exalted by tags and labels.” Lippmann suggested that for the effective “manufacture of consent,” what was needed were “intelligence bureaus” or “observatories,” employing the social scientific techniques of “disinterested” information to be provided to journalists, governments, and businesses regarding the complex issues of modern society. These essentially came to be known and widely employed as think tanks, the most famous of which is the Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921 and to which Lippmann later belonged as a member.
In 1925, Lippmann wrote another immensely important work entitled, The Phantom Public, in which he expanded upon his conceptions of the public and democracy. In his concept of democratic society, Lippmann wrote that, “A false ideal of democracy can lead only to disillusionment and to meddlesome tyranny,” and to prevent this from taking place, “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” Defining the public as a “bewildered herd,” Lippmann went on to conceive of ‘public opinion’ not as “the voice of God, nor the voice of society, but the voice of the interested spectators of action.” Thus, “the opinions of the spectators must be essentially different from those of the actors.” This new conception of society, managed by actors and not the “bewildered herd” of “spectators” would be constructed so as to subject the managers of society, wrote Lippmann, “to the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.” In case there was any confusion, the “bewildered herd” of “spectators” made up of “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” is the public, is we, the people.
Lippmann was not an idle intellectual whose ideas are anachronisms of history, he was perhaps the most influential political theorist of his day, advising presidents while still in his 20s, Woodrow Wilson invited him to organize his war-time propaganda ministry, the Committee on Public Information (which was actually Lippmann’s idea to create), and his ideas held enormous resonance and received immense support from elite institutions and individuals. The influence of Lippmann’s ideas can be seen in the political machinery of the party system, the media, academia, think tanks, the construction of the consumer society, the activities of philanthropic foundations and a variety of other avenues and activities.
Several decades later, in the midst of another major social crisis in the 1960s, elite intellectuals again engaged in a discussion on the direction of society, social engineering, social control, and the role of “intellectuals” in society.
McGeorge Bundy, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (and later the Trilateral Commission), was the U.S. National Security Adviser, responsible for organizing foreign policy under Kennedy and Johnson (largely responsible for the Vietnam War), and in 1966, he went to become President of the Ford Foundation. In 1967, Bundy wrote an article for Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations which McGeorge’s brother William Bundy (a former CIA analyst and State Department staffer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations) would be editor of from 1972-1984, after declining the offer from David Rockefeller to be the Council president. McGeorge wrote in his 1967 article that:
The end of 1966 finds the United States with more hard business before it than at any time since 1962. We are embattled in Viet Nam; we are in the middle of a true social revolution at home; and we have undiminished involvement with continents and countries that still refuse to match our simpler pictures of them.
Bundy lamented the idea that, “American democracy has no enduring taste for imperialism,” because despite all of the “nation’s interests overseas, the boys always want to come home.” Bundy then went on to explain the benefits of questioning particular policies the United States pursues, but not to question the entire premise of America’s foreign policy in general (namely, that of imperialism). Instead, Bundy acknowledged that most of the dissent and argument on the Vietnam War was in terms of “tactics, not fundamentals,” though, he acknowledged, “[t]here are wild men in the wings,” referring to those intellectuals who question the basis and fundamentals of foreign policy itself. Such “wild men in the wings” and “value-oriented intellectuals” present such a monumental threat to established elite interests. As the Trilateral Commission’s report noted in 1975:
At the present time, a significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to “monopoly capitalism.” The development of an “adversary culture” among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media. Intellectuals are, as [Political Economist Joseph] Schumpeter put it, “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word, and one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” In some measure, the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals.
The Trilateral Commission report later expanded upon the concept of the role of the intellectual in society. It stated that in the cultural history of Western Europe, “intellectuals are romantic figures who naturally get a position of prominence through a sort of aristocratic exaltation.” However, in periods of “fast changes,” they often come to lead and join “the fight against the old aristocratic tradition.” This, the Trilateral Commission contended, represented an “internal upsetting of the traditional intellectual roles.” This was identified as a “crisis of identity” in which, “[i]t has become a battle between those persons who play the audience, even if it is a protest type, and those who contribute to the process of decision-making.” Claiming that protest-oriented intellectuals are among “the audience” reinforces Lippmann’s assertion some decades earlier that the public are mere “spectators,” not capable of nor desired to engage meaningfully in politics. For the Trilateral Commission, the rise of “value-oriented intellectuals” was the result of the “intellectualization” of the “post-industrial society” in which their particular fields (namely, the humanities) became less useful in “application” and “practical use,” and thus, society “tends to displace traditional value-oriented intellectual disciplines to the benefit of action-oriented ones, that is, those disciplines that can play a direct role in policy-making.” This would of course include the authors of the Trilateral Commission report itself, namely Samuel Huntington, who went on to work on the National Security Council under Zbigniew Brzezinski (co-founder of the Trilateral Commission) in the Jimmy Carter administration.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte had long discussed the role of radical intellectuals in society and social movements. Following the major youth and student protests and movements of 1968, Sarte felt that the first duty of the radical intellectual is to “suppress himself as intellectual” and put his skills “directly at the service of the masses.” In a 1971 interview, Sarte was asked the question, “What should the radical intellectual do?” Sarte responded:
Today it is sheer bad faith, hence counterrevolutionary, for the intellectual to dwell in his own problems, instead of realizing that he is an intellectual because of the masses and through them; therefore, that he owes his knowledge to them and must be with them and in them: he must be dedicated to work for their problems, not his own.
Thus, radical intellectuals should be creating revolutionary newspapers directed toward the masses, creating “a language that explains the necessary political realities in a way that everyone can understand.” Sarte was then asked, “Are you saying… that the responsibility of the intellectual is not intellectual?” He replied:
Yes, it is in action. It is to put his status at the service of the oppressed directly… the intellectual who does not put his body as well as his mind on the line against the system is fundamentally supporting the system and should be judged accordingly.
As such, it is the responsibility of the radical intellectual to not lead, but follow and support the movements and struggles of the masses. For Sarte, the intellectual’s “privileged status is over.” Thus, “only activism will justify the intellectual.” This is, in fact, a direct counter – or parallel – to the concept of the policy-oriented or technocratic intellectual, who directly partakes in the decision-making process. Just as the “technocratic intellectual” who partakes in the decisions of the institutions of power is “policy-oriented,” the radical intellectual directly partakes in the process of resistance (though not necessarily the decision-making process), and is also “action-oriented.”
In 1967, famed linguist Noam Chomsky wrote an essay in which he voiced his political opposition to the Vietnam War, entitled, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” In the article, which provoked widespread discussion and debate, Chomsky wrote:
With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom if expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.
As Chomsky explained, “If it is the responsibility of the intellectual to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” This is, of course, in counter to the “technical experts” of social science, seeking to remedy “technical problems” of society in a “responsible” manner. In this sense, “responsibility” has a dual use: it is used by elites to denote those intellectuals who are “responsible” to the elite, and it is also used by dissenters to denote a “responsibility” to the truth and the people. Thus, the use of the word – whether one describes dissenters as “responsible” or “irresponsible” – tends to express more about those who use the term rather than those for whom they are applying the term.
This is, it must be acknowledged, not a new phenomenon. It is found throughout human history, though often called different things in different times and places. It can be found among the ancient philosophers and, indeed, the prophets of the Biblical era. As Noam Chomsky has elsewhere explained, “The history of intellectuals is written by intellectuals, so not surprisingly, they are portrayed as defenders of right and justice, upholding the highest values and confronting power and evil with admirable courage and integrity. The record reveals a rather different picture.” Chomsky further wrote:
A large part of the Bible is devoted to people who condemned the crimes of state and immoral practices. They are called “prophets,” a dubious translation of an obscure word. In contemporary terms, they were “dissident intellectuals.” There is no need to review how they were treated: miserably, the norm for dissidents.
There were also intellectuals who were greatly respected in the era of the prophets: the flatterers at the court. The Gospels warn of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them.”
In his book, Sage, Priest, and Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel, Joseph Blenkinsopp explained the use of the term ‘prophet’ in both historical and contemporary context. In the contemporary context, it is generally associated with “prediction, emotional preaching, [and] social protest,” though the Hebrew term for it (nabi), has been so widely and differently used to describe various individuals, including its usage to describe many who functioned in “sanctuaries and royal courts,” in which case, they would be individuals who serve power. On the other hand, for those that challenged the power structures, Blenkinsopp argued that they were essentially “dissident intellectuals.”
Again, this drew a distinction in ancient times with the word ‘prophet’ to that we hold today with the word ‘intellectual’: denoting both those who serve and challenge power. Blenkinsopp explained that the prophets who were “dissident intellectuals” in the Biblical era “collaborated at some level of conscious intent in the emergence of a coherent vision of a moral universe over against current assumptions cherished and propagated by the contemporary state apparatus, including its priestly and prophetic representatives.” In other words, they challenged the institutions of power which existed during that era. These dissident intellectuals – much like those of the modern era – “often play a socially destabilizing role in taking an independent, critical, or innovative line over against commonly accepted assumptions of a dominant ideology.” In fact, stipulated Blenkinsopp, “radical change rarely, if ever, comes about without the cooperation or intervention of an intellectual elite.”
Blenkinsopp described an era in which these prophets emerged in protest “at the accumulation of wealth and the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the few at the expense of the many.” The prophet – or dissident intellectual – Amos had lashed “out at those who store of the (fruits of) violence and robbery,” and who “live at ease in houses, the walls and furniture of which are inlaid with ivory.” Amos and another dissident intellectual, Isaiah, had “nothing but scorn for the idle rich and depict.” Blenkinsopp wrote:
The concentration of power and resources in the hands of the few, in this instance the political and hierocratic establishment and its clientele, is always liable to generate protest, especially if it is accompanied by the impoverishment of the many. A few decades after Amos, Hesiod claimed divine inspiration in denouncing unjust rulers.
Thus, whether Hesiod, Hosea, Micah, or Isaiah, “all four belonged to the very small minority of the population that was literate and educated, and it was from that socially privileged position that their protest was launched.” These dissidents, however, were of a very small minority. For literally hundreds of years, the ‘prophets’ (intellectuals) of the era were “almost exclusively supportive” of power, “and there is no breath of challenge to the political or social status quo.” It was “in Israel and, to a lesser extent, Greece [where] a tradition of dissent and social protest develop[ed].” How were these dissident intellectual ‘prophets’ of the era treated? The established powers attempted to silence Amos and Micah, Hosea was ridiculed as “a fool,” and Isaiah was driven into “retirement” after an attempt to intervene in foreign policy matters. So, while we claim them as prophets today, in their time they were treated as pariahs.
So whether in Biblical Israel, nearly 800 years before the arrival of Christ, or in the 1975 Trilateral Commission report, “dissident intellectuals” are to be feared and reviled by established powers, and it is clear that these powers will always attempt and actively take measures to minimize, ostracize, repress or eliminate such forms of dissent.
Thus, we have come to see the corporatization of our universities and the marginalization of dissident intellectuals in the neoliberal era. As Bronwyn Davies et. al. wrote in the European Journal of Education, few radical intellectuals of the 1960s and 70s “imagined how dangerous their work with students might seem to be to those in government or to the global leaders of big business and industry.” This was, of course, addressed by the Trilateral Commission, which above all represents the interests of the financial, corporate, political, and intellectual elite. This elite felt that “they must establish a new order to make the world more predictable, and they saw those radical intellectuals – both academics and journalists – as contributing to the dangerous disorder.”
The Trilateral Commission was founded by two individuals: one a representative of high finance (David Rockefeller, Chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank), and the other a representative of the intellectual elite (Zbigniew Brzezinski, professor of political science, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, foreign policy official). Brzezinski wrote a book in 1970, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, in which he laid out the problems of the technological and electronic era (hence, “tehcnetronic”) and elaborated on strategies to resolve them: politically, economically, and socially, including the formation of a “community of developed nations” to jointly work together in managing the world for their own benefit. Rockefeller, who was also a top official at the Council on Foreign Relations and also attended meetings of the Bilderberg group with Brzezinski (another exclusively elitist international think tank linking Western Europe and North America), took note of the book and its arguments, and recruited Brzezinski to help put together this “community,” and in 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed. Brzezinski, in terms of intellectual influence, is perhaps as close to a Walter Lippmann for the globalized era as one could get. For decades, he has been a major foreign policy official with significant influence, sitting on the boards of major elite think tanks that produce policy plans which are implemented in the government, acting in an advisory capacity to almost every president since Jimmy Carter, and in terms of his still close relationship with the ruling financial oligarchy (namely, the Rockefellers).
In his book, Brzezinski discussed the need for “programmatic engineering” to manage and change American culture, of which he emphasized the roles played by education and the mass media over the alternative avenues of churches and traditional customs. The manufacturing of culture, posited Brzezinski, was an American ‘obligation’:
Change in educational procedures and philosophy should also be accompanied by parallel changes in the broader national processes by which values are generated and disseminated. Given America’s role as a world disseminator of new values and techniques, this is both a national and a global obligation. Yet no other country has permitted its mass culture, taste, daily amusement, and, most important, the indirect education of its children to be almost exclusively the domain of private business and advertising, or permitted both standards of taste and the intellectual content of culture to be defined largely by a small group of entrepreneurs located in one metropolitan center.
Brzezinski also discussed one of the more relevant and indeed, concerning facets of the Technological Revolution. Of course, writing of this as a ‘concern’ is in terms of Brzezinski writing from the perspective of an elite academic and strategic thinker, and thus, representing the elite class and their overall concerns. Namely, Brzezinski wrote on the prospects of a revolution against this process and the power structures involved, explaining that these groups are likely to emerge in both the developing world and industrialized world in opposition to the process of ‘modernization,’ which Brzezinski refers to as the advancement of the ‘Technetronic Revolution.’ In the Global South (the “Third World”), the revolutionary class is likely to emerge from the educated classes who are deprived of social opportunities fitting with their intellectual expectations. In the industrialized West, however, this “revolutionary intelligentsia” is most likely to emerge from the “middle-class intellectual equivalents” of the revolutionary class in the developing world. Thus, it would emerge among the educated middle-classes of the West, who are deprived of opportunities attuned to their education, thus creating a ‘crisis of expectations.’ Brzezinski wrote that the Technetronic Revolution had created a “social anachronism,” in which these groups may hold onto anti-industrial values and could possibly, even in the more modern countries, effectively block the modernization of their societies, “insisting that it be postponed until after an ideological revolution has taken place.” Brzezinski explained:
In this sense the technetronic revolution could partially become a self-limiting phenomenon: disseminated by mass communications, it creates its own antithesis through the impact of mass communications on some sectors of the intelligentsia.
Brzezinski’s answer to these profound and potentially revolutionary circumstances was to employ more social engineering, more social control, more integration and coordination among global powers; essentially, to strengthen power structures at the expense of all others. Brzezinski wrote that there was a “mounting national recognition that the future can and must be planned; that unless there is a modicum of deliberate choice, change will result in chaos.” He elaborated:
Technological developments make it certain that modern society will require more and more planning. Deliberate management of the American future will become widespread, with the planner eventually displacing the lawyer as the key social legislator and manipulator… How to combine social planning with personal freedom is already emerging as the key dilemma of technetronic America, replacing the industrial age’s preoccupation with balancing social needs against requirements of free enterprise.
In the same line of arguing in favour of more coordination, planning, and “technical” expertise, Brzezinski also posited an image of where this could eventually lead:
Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific know-how. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control… Persisting social crisis, the emergence of a charismatic personality, and the exploitation of mass media to obtain public confidence would be the steppingstones in the piecemeal transformation of the United States into a highly controlled society.
Thus, we come to understand the ideologies, intent, and actions of two divergent social actors: the technocratic and policy-oriented intellectual and the dissident action-oriented intellectual. One supports power, one supports people. Our educational system is still to a significant degree composed of and designed to produce (like industrial factories for intellectual products) those intellectuals who support power, who engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. Dissident intellectuals, while they exist, remain confined. They engage in research and write in academic journals which reach only other dissident intellectuals. This is the case not only in the West, but across a great deal of the world. There are, of course, exceptions, but they are few and far between. The knowledge and ideas and dissident intellectuals must be designed not for the purpose of internal discussion and debate among other dissidents within the institutions of academia, but to reach the masses, to empower the people, and to join – actively and actually – with the people as they mobilize for change. In order to do this, new forums, conferences, media, and other sources and organizations should attract the “value-oriented intellectuals” away from Ivory towers of intellectual isolation and into the people-oriented pathways of political action. The language must be made less academic and more accessible, the activities must be more directly engaged with people than distant and distracted.
The rigors of academic life make this a great challenge, not only for students but for professors as well. Professors are expected to publish consistently in journals and other publications, and so when they are not teaching or instructing, they are researching and writing, independently and isolated. There is very little time or opportunity for direct engagement, or for writing for other publications and avenues which could allow their research to reach a wider audience. This keeps intellectuals disciplined and distracted, and ultimately, gives little relevance to their research in terms of actually affecting any meaningful changes in society. However, here we come to understanding the inherent dichotomy of a crisis, in this case, the “Crisis of Education.” As the crisis of education leads to increased costs, increased debts, decreased enrollment, decreased opportunities, increased social unrest, increased student resistance, and ultimately, a decrease in the amount of teachers and professors (this is already taking place), there also opens an avenue through which much of the disciplinary mechanisms which held dissident intellectuals back will be eroded. With nothing left to lose (in terms of job security, financial stability, social prestige and opportunity), dissident intellectuals will be far more inclined toward participation in activism and social movements. Avenues for their participation should be opened up and extended as this crisis continues and deepens.
A simply example of such an opportunity to attract dissident intellectuals would be a type of international conference, media, and educational institute. It could begin with a conference, drawing dissidents from around the world – from Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Spain, the U.K., Canada, Australia, United States, Iceland, Ireland, Chile, Taiwan, etc. – to hold a discussion and debate on the origins, evolution, development and potential for the growing social and activist movements, whether in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, anti-austerity protests, student strikes, and others. The conference could be televised for free online, so people all over the world could view and engage. A major aim and result of the conference could be to establish an educational institution, which brings together such intellectuals from around the world with more consistency, which organizes a network of globally connected but locally-oriented decentralized schools, designed specifically for a broad, multi-disciplinary and globally-relevant education for social change. They could hold classes in which students and teachers engage as equals, bringing in local activists, alternative media, even filming the actual classes and discussions to post online, even provide a live feed. The aim would be to provide education for the purpose of empowering people to activism and social change. They could establish their own media outlets, providing research and discussion of activities by students and professors, and become engaged in actively planning and helping organize social movements, protests, and other activities.
The point would be to provide a forum where education has an empowering social purpose, where it integrates itself with other elements of society and does not remain isolated and insulated. For example, if one such discussion were to take place in a local decentralized school on the topic of food sustainability, agriculture, GMOs, and the politics of food, the result could be a decision to establish a network of organic farmers who would be willing to produce cheap food for poor areas, establish a space where there could be a cheap organic food market, or cheap (or free) meals made with the food, but dispensing it to poor people in poor areas of major cities, who would otherwise not have the means of good food for decent prices. It’s a very simple program, but the effects can be profound. Not only could it begin to integrate farmers and agriculturalists with such an emerging movement, but it could integrate the poor more closely with such a movement. The poor are, after all, the largest constituency in the world, and the one in the most need of help and empowerment. For the poor, the ideological and power struggles between the middle and upper classes are largely irrelevant, because neither benefit nor empower them. If there is to be a true and genuine revolutionary change in global society, acting without the ideas and support of the poor is a sure way to guarantee failure for genuine change. To get the support of the poor, the poor must be supported; they must be given a stake in the future, empowered to act and participate in change, and the starting point for this is to address the immediate necessities of poor people everywhere: food, clothing, shelter.
The difference between how ‘social control’-oriented institutions (such as foundations and NGOs) address poverty and how revolutionary and radical organizations would address poverty, is the intent and methods in dealing with these immediate concerns. NGOs and foundations seek to establish methods of providing food, clothing, shelter and general necessities so much as to address the symptoms of poverty, not the causes, and thus, to ultimately sustain the system that creates poverty by alleviating the worst conditions just enough to prevent rebellion or resistance. Revolutionary or radical organizations would seek to address the immediate concerns of the poor in order so that they may be empowered and able to begin finding ways to support themselves, to learn from them, and to provide access to forms of knowledge which have been denied to them. Thus, any programs of directly helping the poor would have to be accompanied with opportunities for education, knowledge, and outlets for action. The point is not to simply feed a poor individual, but to disseminate knowledge about why they are poor, how society creates and sustains the poor, the sources and solutions to poverty. Thus, it does not simply alleviate the symptoms, but empowers the individuals. Further, any radical movement must in turn be educated by the poor, for through their very existence, they are better able to understand the nature of the system that exists, because they have always been subjected to its most ugly and oppressive apparatus. While it may be easy for middle class intellectuals and students to promote a revolutionary cause based upon an ideology of how the state can and should function, poor people are able to give a better idea of how the state does function, has functioned, and thus, raise critical questions about the ideas, objectives, and actions of middle class and other radicals. The point would not be to be modern missionaries, providing food with “the Bible,” but to help – not out of pity but out of empathy and necessity – to empower, and, ultimately, to learn from and work with the poor. If any radical or revolutionary movement emerges which does not include a significant number of leaders from the poor population, and without significant support from the poor population, it is inherently anti-democratic and unworthy of pursuit.
This is, of course, just one example. The objective then, would be to find a way to bring dissident intellectuals out of the rigid confines of academia, and into the real world: to embolden, empower, and engage with the people, to participate in activism and social mobilization, and to work with a wide variety of other social groups and sectors in order to collectively participate in the construction of a new and far better world. It is time that this must be the acknowledged purpose of intellectuals, not the exception.
 Frank Webster and Kevin Robins, “Plan and Control: Towards a Cultural History of the Information Society,” Theory and Society (Vol. 18, 1989), pages 341-342.
 Sidney Kaplan, “Social Engineers as Saviors: Effects of World War I on Some American Liberals,” Journal of the History of Ideas (Vol. 17, No. 3, June 1956), pages 366-367.
 Sue Curry Jansen, “Phantom Conflict: Lippmann, Dewey, and the Fate of the Public in Modern Society,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies (Vol. 6, No. 3, 2009), page 225.
 Walter Lippmann, et. al., The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy (Harvard University Press, 1982), page 91.
 Ibid, page 92.
 McGeorge Bundy, “The End of Either/Or,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 45, No. 2, January 1967), page 189.
 Ibid, pages 189-191.
 Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy, (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), pages 6-7.
 Ibid, page 31-32.
 Ronald Aronson, “Sarte and the Radical Intellectuals Role,” Science & Society (Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter 1975/1976), pages 436, 447.
 Ibid, pages 447-448.
 Ibid, page 448-449.
 Noam Chomsky, “A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” The New York Review of Books, 23 February 1967:
 Noam Chomsky, “Great Soul of Power,” Information Clearing House, 26 July 2006:
 Joseph Blenkinsopp, Sage, Priest, Prophet: Religious and Intellectual Leadership in Ancient Israel (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), page 2.
 Ibid, page 144.
 Ibid, pages 153-154.
 Ibid, page 154.
 Bronwyn Davies, et. al., “The Rise and Fall of the Neo-liberal University,” European Journal of Education (Vol. 41, No. 2, 2006), page 311.
 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (Greenwood Press, Westport: 1970), page 265.
 Ibid, page 269.
 Ibid, page 278.
 Ibid, page 256.
 Ibid, page 260.
 Ibid, pages 252-253.